Bulls one win away from playoffs after victory over Timberwolves
Matt Krohn - USA Today Sports

Bulls one win away from playoffs after victory over Timberwolves

by - Senior Writer -

MINNEAPOLIS — It is physically impossible to figure out which Chicago Bulls (36-39) team you are going to get from one night to the next. Two days after getting destroyed by the Brooklyn Nets on the road, the Bulls were back in action Sunday, with a trip to the Target Center and the Minnesota Timberwolves (51-23) up next.

Minnesota has been one of the best teams in the Western Conference all season long. Throw in being in the top three in overall defense, and it shouldn't surprise you to see them fighting for the No.1 spot in the West. When these teams met back in the United Center, the Bulls shocked Minnesota despite Anthony Edwards having one of the best nights of his career. That wasn't going to happen again, was it?

That is why they play the game, and for whatever reason, the Bulls choose to play down to their competition against bad teams and up to their competition against good teams. That is where the lack of consistency comes into play, which has driven the fans crazy for the past two seasons. Backed by an amazing first quarter that saw the Bulls in front by 11, Chicago maintained that lead until the fourth when the Timberwolves took a 99-98 lead with under five minutes to go.

From there, it was all Chicago as they closed out the game on an 11-2 run anchored by Demar DeRozan and Alex Caruso as the Bulls shocked the Timberwolves again 109-101 for a vital win. It's worth noting that this is statistically one of the worst overall shooting seasons of DeRozan's career, but you would never guess that based on his overall production.

DeRozan was at it again, especially down the stretch, as he led the Bulls with 27 points and dished out eight assists. However, as good as DeRozan was, the real story hinges on Caruso and the overall job he did on Sunday. Known for being one of the best defenders in the league, Caruso has seen his scoring take a massive uptick in recent weeks. He anchored one of the best three-point stretches of his career.

Not only was he scoring the basketball on Sunday, but you could make the case that this was his best overall game of the season. He backed his strong defense with 21 points, all of which came from beyond the arc. Caruso knocked down 7-8 from distance to give the Bulls a spark they desperately needed, as he continues to close the season on a high note.

While those two stole the show, it was all about balance for the Bulls on Sunday, as all five starters scored in double figures and were responsible for 97 of their 109 points. Although you would like more bench production, anytime your starters score 97 points, you are in good shape, as they were feeling it most of the night. Nikola Vucevic and Coby White both had quiet nights, but with 19 points and eight boards from Vooch and an additional 17 points and three assists from White, they both did what they had to do.

Add in Ayo Dosunmu's 13 points and six assists, and the Bulls scored plenty across the board, making it hard for the Timberwolves to defend. Andre Drummond added six points and nine boards off the bench, with Torrey Craig and Javonte Green each picking up three in the win.

As mentioned above, the Bulls had no answers for Edwards last time out, and had he had another showing like that, this game would've been over. Credit the Bulls defense for stepping up to make things much more difficult as he had just 22 points in the loss to lead Minnesota, but also pulled in 11 boards. Part of his struggles came from distance, where he went 0-5 from three-point range. That was the theme all game long as the Bulls shot nearly 60% from distance, knocking down 17-29, while the Timberwolves were at 30%, 11-37.

That 18-point difference was the difference in the game, as the Bulls finally proved they can knock down outside shots. Like the Bulls, most of the Timberwolves' production came from the starting five, where four of their five starters had double-figure showings. Mike Conley Jr. delivered a strong 19-point, seven-assist performance, with Rudy Gobert adding 19 and 10.

Fellow big man Naz Reid doesn't start a ton, but with 14 points, he proved he is capable of doing things when given the opportunity. You also had Monte Morris pick up nine points off the bench, with Jaden McDaniels adding eight to round out the starters in the loss. With the win, mixed with the Nets loss, the Bulls are seven games clear of the Nets with seven games left to play.

That means their magic number to clinch a play-in spot is one that could happen as early as Monday.

Chicago will look to finish the Nets off tonight when they host the Atlanta Hawks at home for the second leg of a back-to-back. Not only is this an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot, but they can also create some separation between them and the Hawks as they try to hold on to that No. 9 seed.

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