Bulls 100, Timberwolves 94

The big story for the Chicago Bulls this week has been the

salary cap space they cleared for this summer’s free agent

frenzy.

The new guys they got played their debut like more than mere

footnotes, though.

Kirk Hinrich had 20 points and helped the Bulls stay balanced

after a couple of rotation-altering trades, outlasting Minnesota

100-94 on Friday night after a bunch of missed layups and free

throws by the Timberwolves.

Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray each had a hand in the

game-changing run to start the fourth quarter, eager to prove their

value beyond those faceless, precious expiring contracts the NBA

has become so obsessed over.

“It was good for me to be able to come in and try to fit right

into the rotation and fit into the system,” said Murray, who had

six points in the first four minutes of the final period in his

first game since coming from Charlotte. “Got a chance to go up and

down with them, so we’ll go with it from there.”

Derrick Rose scored 19 points and Luol Deng pitched in 18 points

for the Bulls, who rallied from an eight-point second-quarter

deficit and clutched a 79-78 lead after Ramon Sessions finished a

fast break for Minnesota with a dunk.

But Hinrich, Warrick and Murray helped Chicago take it from

there, while the bricks and bad body language began to pile up for

the Wolves. The Bulls went up 91-80 on a pair of free throws by

Rose with 6:32 left.

“You could just see that our guys were getting more and more

frustrated,” coach Kurt Rambis said.

Corey Brewer led the way with 19 points for Minnesota, but even

he had trouble, missing four of his five foul shots. The Wolves

went 6 for 18 from the floor in the fourth quarter and missed eight

of 13 free throws in the final 12 minutes.

“I’d never seen anything like that. I guess all our energy was

gone,” said Al Jefferson, held to 10 points and five rebounds.

The Bulls still have the fifth seed for the Eastern Conference

playoffs in sight, with wins in five of their last six games to

climb into sixth place. Since beating Minnesota at home on Jan. 9,

they’re 14-6 – 9-4 on the road including this rematch.

“All the guys who were here before, the guys now – the goal in

this league is to win,” Hinrich said. “I feel like we’ve put

ourselves in a good position to have a good strong finish.”

Insisting they’re still focused on making the playoffs and not

distracted by the dream of luring Dwyane Wade to his hometown, the

Bulls are in a favorable stretch of the schedule for this

transition to the new players. Seven of their first eight games out

of the All-Star break are against losing teams.

Joakim Noah’s energy and rebounding were still missing for the

Bulls, and Warrick and Murray replaced Tyrus Thomas and John

Salmons, their third-leading scorer, as the first men off the

bench.

Salmons was traded to Milwaukee in the deal that brought Warrick

and Thomas went to Charlotte earlier this week.

Murray had eight points in 19 minutes and Warrick shot 5 for 13

and finished with 10 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes, with

both of them pushing through the mistakes coach Vinny Del Negro

predicted before the game.

“They’re going to be a little bit uncomfortable, where to be in

the rotations and things,” Del Negro said. “But you know they

know how to play. They gave us a boost.”

The Wolves, wearing their original 1989 blue road jerseys with

white trim and green numbers, have at least shown some life in most

of their home games, unlike so many of their woeful efforts on the

road in this rebuilding year. They shot 53.3 percent in the first

half, and Rambis lamented the loss after praising their help

defense and ball movement on offense, two nuances of the game that

have been often missing.

After a season-high four-game winning streak earlier this month,

the Wolves have sputtered after the All-Star break.

“They haven’t really blossomed as a team,” Rambis said.

“There’s still guys trying to figure each other out. They’re still

trying to figure themselves out. So when you take a break, you’ve

got nothing to go back to kind of hold on to.”

NOTES: Noah, who has missed seven straight games with the

painful plantar fasciitis irritation in his left foot, is feeling a

little better but unlikely to play Saturday against the Sixers, Del

Negro said. “We want to be smart about it,” Del Negro said. …

This was only the second win for Chicago at Minnesota in the last

12 meetings at Target Center. … Minnesota’s Darko Milicic joined

the team on Friday, but didn’t dress for the game. He sat behind

Rambis in a pinstriped suit jacket, but it’s not clear when he’ll

start playing. “He said he’s not in great shape right now,”

Rambis said.