The Chicago Bulls are leading the way in the Eastern Conference. But with the regular season drawing to a close their intensity over the last two games has been admittedly lacking early on.
After falling behind by double digits for a second straight game, the Bulls look to get off to a faster start Wednesday night when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Chicago (53-20), trying to hold off Miami and Boston for the East’s top seed, had its four-game winning streak snapped with a 97-85 home loss to Philadelphia on Monday. The Bulls, who had won 12 of 13, were outscored 27-13 in the first quarter and trailed the entire game.
Rose scored 24 of his 31 points in the second half, during which the Bulls cut a 19-point deficit to four, but the MVP candidate had a career-high 10 turnovers and committed two in the final two minutes.
“We came out sluggish. This one is definitely on me,” Rose said. “Just me taking care of the ball and missing shots that I normally hit. … Just careless, some of them was me driving and kicking the ball off my foot.”
It was the second straight game the Bulls fell behind early, having trailed Milwaukee by seven midway through the first quarter but rallying from 15 down in the second half to win 95-87.
Chicago is second in the league in scoring defense, allowing 92.1 points per game, but has given up a combined 101 first-half points in its last two.
“The last couple of games, the first half we haven’t played defense,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We have to take a look at how we approach the game, how we practice and make the corrections real fast. Things can change fast in this league.”
Rose and the Bulls had no such first-half problems in their only matchup with the Timberwolves (17-57) this season. Chicago led 58-37 at halftime en route to a 113-82 victory Dec. 11. Rose had 21 points in 30 minutes, shooting 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
Minnesota has lost seven straight but has been competitive against playoff-bound opponents. The Timberwolves have dropped their last three by an average of 6.3 points while losing to Dallas, Oklahoma City and Boston.
Minnesota trailed 32-13 after the first quarter against the Celtics on Sunday but came back to take the lead in the fourth before losing 85-82.
“I feel like we showed a lot of character,” said Michael Beasley, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds. “We could’ve just let them beat us by 60 points. But we fought back and gave ourselves a chance to win the last two minutes. Of course we wanted to win, but it didn’t turn out that way. A lot of guys played well, and we learned a lot from this game.”
It was the first time in eight games the Timberwolves limited a team to fewer than 100 points. They had been 5-0 when holding the opposition under 90.
Kevin Love missed his third straight game with a strained left groin, but said Tuesday he expects to return for this game.
Minnesota has lost three straight in this series after winning 16 of 20.
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