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Nice run ends in a stumble
Whose idea was it to schedule teams from outside the Atlantic Division?
The Bulls got welcomed back to reality Saturday night when they played the Minnesota Timberwolves, a stunning departure from the lineups of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Toronto pretenders the Bulls mostly had feasted on the last couple of weeks from the Atlantic Division, where the division leader is five games below .500.
The result was the end of their seven-game winning streak, a mostly one-sided 91-81 loss that evened the Bulls record at 10-10. They now have averaged 87 points the last two games after scoring more than 100 in the previous eight.
"Thank goodness," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said about Minnesota not being in the Eastern Conference. "We have to figure out what happened the last two games. Compared to last night (against Toronto), it was similar. We were just fortunate to win. We've had two in a row where we've been a little bit off and we have to try to solve some of our issues.
"Let's not make it the Super Bowl. It was one game. We had one heck of a streak. It's over now and we have to try to work out what we need to work out and get another streak going."
The good news is the Bulls face mostly Eastern Conference teams this week, starting with the Indiana Pacers on Monday. They are in turmoil, the latest incident Saturday night with Stephen Jackson banished from the bench.
Thank goodness for geography.
The Timberwolves, with six players in double figures, were led by Kevin Garnett with 18 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and three blocks. They led the game for the last 46 minutes and 12 seconds.
That was when Mark Blount dunked on an inside pass from Garnett, the first sign for Skiles that this wasn't going to be a very good night for his team.
"Guys were cutting to the basket and he was throwing bounce passes for layups," said Skiles. "We were not sharp. When you are around a team and see those things two or three minutes into the game, you can make a judgment that we are not here tonight. It is a sign of something bigger going on."
This one got away early as the Bulls were lost on defense, scrambling as Minnesota wheeled the ball around. Reserve Marko Jaric had 12 points and a pair of three-pointers that opened up the game in the second quarter.
"Tomorrow's a day off," said Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 21 points off the bench. "We need to think about what we need to do."
By late in the third quarter, the Timberwolves had a 20-point lead and were isolating Trenton Hassell on small guards, first Chris Duhon and then Ben Gordon. That activity got Mike James open for a three-pointer good for a 72-53 lead with just more than three minutes left in the third quarter.
Yes, the Bulls were double-teaming Trenton Hassell.
"Why not?" Hassell asked afterward.
But the Bulls don't give up. They started firing themselves at the basket to cut the deficit to 76-69 with almost nine minutes left on a Luol Deng drive.
But Duhon and Kirk Hinrich missed on the next two possessions, the Bulls shooting 39.5 percent for the game, and Minnesota was able to push the lead back to 11 with just more than five minutes remaining. From there, they just held on.
"We didn't start playing until two minutes were left in the third quarter," Skiles said. "They were throwing it to the Ticket (Garnett) and we were just standing around. Then you saw what happened when we got active (9-0 run) to end the third quarter.
It's a very difficult team for us to play against."