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The Chicago Bulls worked toward their future by pulling off a pair of deadline deals Thursday.

For the present, the Bulls are trying to remain in playoff contention and a trip to face the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night could help.

Chicago (27-26) sent former No. 4 overall pick Tyrus Thomas to Charlotte for a future first-round selection and the expiring contracts of Flip Murray and Acie Law. Earlier in the day, the Bulls shipped guard John Salmons and two second-round picks to Milwaukee for two more players with expiring contracts, Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander.

Those moves put the team about $18 to $20 million under the salary cap in advance of a free-agent class that could include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer.

"In order to create the cap space to attract a max free agent this summer, we knew we had to make some moves," general manager Gar Forman said. "A lot of teams were positioning themselves to be able to attract a maximum free agent this summer, so we created that flexibility."

The future is unknown for the four newcomers, but they'll try to help the Bulls to their second straight playoff appearance and fifth in six seasons. Winners of four of five, Chicago is currently tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference with Miami.

The Bulls helped themselves with a home-and-home sweep of the New York Knicks earlier this week, which included Wednesday night's 115-109 road victory.

Derrick Rose scored 27 points in his team's seventh win in nine road games. He's averaged 28.0 points since his first All-Star Game appearance and registered at least 21 in each of Chicago's past four wins.

Rose, though, had just eight points in a 110-96 home victory over the Timberwolves on Jan. 9. Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah scored 20 apiece, while Corey Brewer led Minnesota with 15.

That victory snapped a three-game slide to the Timberwolves (13-42), but Chicago has dropped four in a row in Minnesota since an 87-83 win Feb. 13, 2005. That was also the Bulls' only victory there in 11 trips since the beginning of the 1997-98 season.

They have a good opportunity to earn another victory against a Minnesota team that's dropped four in a row by an average of 13.8 points.

The Timberwolves averaged 112.3 points while winning their previous four games, but are averaging 93.3 points during their skid. They've also allowed 107 points per game and 51.7 percent shooting during those losses.

In Wednesday night's 108-99 loss in Washington, Minnesota was outscored 34-21 in the third quarter and outpaced 33-13 in that same period the previous evening, a 108-85 defeat in Detroit.

"This is very similar to our lack of effort (in the loss to the Pistons) - guys not doing the right things, not getting the stops, not having the defensive pressure," coach Kurt Rambis said.

Minnesota acquired former No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic from New York for Brian Cardinal on Wednesday night, and the 7-footer may be available for this game.

The Timberwolves have won three of four at home.

Tagged: Hawks, Bulls, Bucks, Timberwolves, Knicks, Wizards, Joe Johnson, John Salmons, Derrick Rose, Joe Alexander

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