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Bulls fall to Timberwolves, prepare for west coast road swing

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An ill Joakim Noah was sent home before tip-off and the Bulls failed to produce more than enough to atone for his absence as they fell 95-86 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The loss dropped them to 4-10 against Western Conference teams this season.

Never a team to make excuses when anyone is out of the lineup, Noah’s energy and activity was evident as the Wolves had their way inside with 46 points in the paint, shooting 46.6 percent from the floor and beating the Bulls (22-22) in transition, outscoring them 22-7 in fast break points. The Bulls also committed 15 turnovers that were converted into 12 points and had their benched outscored 35-11.

“Whenever you lose All-Star, you’re going to feel it,” Taj Gibson said. “He’s been playing phenomenal. He’s one of the vocal leaders on the court – rebounding, playing defense, controlling the offensive end as far as making plays for guys. Things like (guys missing games) is going to happen. It’s always up to the group and the guys to gather up and push forward.”

Carlos Boozer led the team with 20 points and 14 rebounds. D.J. Augustin added 19 points to go along with six assists. Jimmy Butler chipped in with 16 and Taj Gibson added a double-double in Noah's absence with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Wolves jumped on the Bulls early, leading by as much as 11 early by streaking out on the break and taking advantage on late rotations on breaks for easy inside buckets. That continued in the second period as Minnesota held a 54-46 lead going into halftime

Adding to not being able to slow the Timberwolves down, the Bulls continuously were penalized for careless fouls throughout the game that made it hard to develop any sort of offensive flow. The Wolves went to the line 26 times, converting on 22 of those tries with the Bulls shooting 10 fewer at the line and only missing two.

“It is the mental mistakes that kill us,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Normally we are very disciplined with body position; that hurt us. We have to adjust to the way that the game is called. It was a winnable game down the stretch. I expect us to get it done.”

The Bulls had several of opportunities in the second half to take command of the game, particularly in the closing minutes of the fourth, but couldn’t get their deficit under five.

Down 84-76, Augustin’s three would make the score 84-79 in the Wolves favor. The Wolves came right back with a pick and roll that got Kevin Love a layup with 1:10 remaining. After a Butler missed shot, Corey Brewer would get a run-out for a dunk on the other end that essentially sealed the game.

Kevin Love led Minnesota with 31 points, nailing all of his season-high 14 free throws and also pulling down eight rebounds.

“If you’re shooting 14 foul shots in a game, that’s crazy,” Gibson said. “We’re not worried about the refs, we’re just worried about ourselves. It’s really tough to get into a rhythm when every time you turn around it’s a foul called. But (Love) is a hell of a player. I’ve known him since high school. Kevin’s a good dude and a phenomenal player.”

The Bulls will be away from home for two weeks as they prepare for a six-game west coast road trip that begins Wednesday in San Antonio.

They are hopeful they will have Noah back as well as Kirk Hinrich at some point during the trip. The veteran point guard missed his fourth straight game with a sore right hamstring.

“It’s a big (test),” Butler said of the upcoming trip. “On the road, western conference; I guess all the odds are stacked against us, but that’s the way that we like to play. We’re Chicago and everybody counts us out, so we got a lot to prove.”

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