Boozer wakes up as Bulls win in Minnesota

Derrick Rose has developed a knack for bouncing back after poor games.
Granted, he hasn't had many poor games this season, but coming off a
30-point, 10-turnover game in which some analysts saw his MVP stock
fall, Rose set the tone early in the Bulls' 108-91 victory over the
Minnesota Timberwolves.

Derrick Rose vs. Timberwolves

Coming off a tough 97-85 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in Chicago on Monday night, the Bulls responded well against the Timberwolves, getting off to a good start, something that's been a problem for them against Philadelphia, Sacramento and Memphis.

The Bulls, who improved to 54-20, got off to a great start in the first quarter, a period they've lost in each of their past three games. As Tom Thibodeau said to reporters after Monday's loss to Philadelphia, you won't win many games getting outscored by 14 in the first period, something that occurred that night.

That wasn't the case tonight, however, as the Bulls outscored the Timberwolves 30-19 in the first quarter. They came out very aggressive, playing inside-out, instead of the outside-in method that we saw a lot of on Monday night.

That takes us back to the aforementioned Rose, who struggled early against the 76ers. He was also criticized earlier in the day by Timberwolves assistant coach Bill Laimbeer, who said that the MVP candidate still has some work to do.

"I wouldn't compare them [Michael Jordan and Rose] because I don't really care about either of
them," Laimbeer said Wednesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN
1000. "One is a point guard and one is a shooting guard. They are two
completely different positions. Derrick Rose has a lot to learn also as
far as getting his teammates more involved. He takes the ball a lot
himself these days. But he's a very aggressive player, he's fast, he's
strong and he has the great skillset to be very successful. To compare
the two would be a stretch at this point."

Well, at least Laimbeer got to watch Rose up close and personal. And Rose came out aggressive from the outset, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the first quarter and dished out five assists.

The comments from Laimbeer come as a surprise, because since heading to the Timberwolves as an assistant coach, he's been nonexistent. The claims that Rose doesn't get his teammates involved are silly, and quite frankly, don't hold much weight coming from a guy who should be focused on doing his duties with the Timberwolves, not the Bulls and their MVP candidate.

Rose finished the game with his 22nd double-double, with 10 assists to add to his 23 points. After Wednesday night's victory, the Bulls are an impressive 16-4 when Rose notches 10 or more assists.

With all great players, stopping them is tough to do, and Luke Ridnour, who was held to 11 points and zero assists, was overmatched and overwhelmed all night.

Rose accounted for 24 of the Bulls' 30 first quarter points, and it seemed like he was headed for his third 40-point game of the season. Thankfully, he got some help from what's been an unfamiliar source in Carlos Boozer.

Boozer's really struggled since the All-Star break, and although fans want to point to the five-game stretch he sat out with a sprained ankle as the reason why, it really isn't. Since the All-Star break (before Wednesday night), Boozer has averaged nearly 14 points and eight rebounds, numbers Bulls fans expect in first halves, not entire games.

Boozer came close to those numbers in the first half alone against the small front-line of Minnesota. He had 12 points and nine rebounds in the first half on 6-for-11 shooting.

That's the Boozer we know and love!

He had his way against anyone Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis decided to put on him. Kevin Love? He was simply too small for Boozer. Darko Milicic? Yeah, the former second-overall pick lived up to his "bust" tag.

Even with Boozer's underwhelming Post All-Star break numbers, the Bulls are still 16-4 in the past 20 games after Wednesday night. It's another credit to Rose, but it's also something that can become a potential vulnerability for the Bulls as they head to the playoffs for the third straight season.

Boozer finished the game with 24 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in nearly 29 minutes. He did on an efficient 10-for-18 shooting and notched his first 20-point, 10-rebound game since February 5. Those are numbers Bulls fans expected when the Bulls threw five-years, $80-million to Boozer, and he came through in the first half, but has been disappointing since the break.

Boozer was bullying the defenders Minnesota threw his way and had a ferocious dunk in the second quarter, pumping him himself, the Bulls bench and kicking the basketball a few rows up in the crowd as well. It was more of a sigh of relief considering the way he's played lately than any type of taunt at the Timberwolves.

Of course, playing the Timberwolves, who fell to 17-58, tends to cure several problems. On Wednesday night, it cured two: The slow start conundrum and Boozer's poor play of late.

The Bulls went into halftime with a 57-44 lead over the Timberwolves, but it was one of those nights where it didn't seem like the opposing team had any chance. Still, the Bulls were coming off a quarter in which they allowed 25 points to the Timberwolves -- that certainly couldn't have had Thibodeau happy in the locker room.

The Timberwolves came into the night 10th in the NBA in points, averaging about 101. They can score, but their defense -- especially interior -- is very weak. The Bulls started attacking the league's worst defensive team in the second half, scoring 29 in the third quarter.

It was also the start of Luol Deng getting in on the act. Deng, who's set to play all 82 games for the first time since the 2006-2007 season, scored 9 of his 13 points in the third quarter, going head-to-head with Michael Beasley to start the frame.

Deng and Beasley combined for the first nine points of the third quarter, and it looked like Beasley was headed for a big second half. Not on Deng's watch. Beasley was held to 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting, and sported a +/- of -18 on Wednesday.

Deng's most impressive aspect was just that: His defense on Beasley. The former second-overall pick came into the game averaging 19 points, and it's been somewhat of a resurgence for Beasley.

Deng did an excellent job on Beasley, frustrating him, and when you do that to Beasley, he's pretty much out of the game. Beasley is a great scorer -- that's why he was drafted with the number two pick by the Miami Heat in 2008. It's a credit to Deng, and as Bulls fans know, his defensive performance against Beasley is nothing new.

Speaking of which, remember when Beasley versus Rose was a marquee matchup?

There were several Chicago fans who thought Beasley was the right pick for the Bulls in the 2008 NBA Draft, although they probably don't want to admit this now. He looked like such a great fit with the Bulls, giving them a scoring big man, something they've missed since Elton Brand earlier in the decade.

It's safe to say they went with the right player in Rose.

Thibodeau and the rest of the Bulls talked about getting off to a good start, and they did that tonight. Against the 76ers on Monday, it was simply a case of too little, too late. The Bulls didn't come out of the gate with the right defensive intensity, and that came back to bite them.

The Joakim Noah-less Bulls came out with the right mindset tonight, and instead of getting down by double-digits to start the game like Monday night, they turned the tables. 

Noah sprained his right ankle in the Bulls' loss against the 76ers and was listed as a game-time decision heading into the game. After going through pregame warmups, Thibodeau and Bulls athletic trainers decided it was best that Noah sat out against the Timberwolves. And there's no question it was the right move.

Why play Noah in a game the Bulls should win anyways? If it was a playoff game, Noah could have probably gutted it out -- he's a gamer and he likely couldn't even stand sitting out a regular season game.

The Bulls made a smart decision keeping Noah out, and they certainly didn't need him against the lowly Timberwolves. Kurt Thomas, the starting center in Noah's place, held his own with six points and eight rebounds in 30 foul-plagued minutes.

He's done exactly what the Bulls have asked: Play defense and hit the occasional mid-range jumper. He did just that on Wednesday night, knocking down a couple early jumpers, and it's not every day when you see Kevin Love held under 10 rebounds.

Love had 16 points and nine rebounds in nearly 27 minutes, but he didn't get many looks as the Timberwolves don't feature Love too often in their "Triangle" offense.

After taking a commanding 86-66 lead after three quarters, it was Bench Mob time in the fourth quarter. Although, to the chagrin of several fans who were chanting "Scal-a-brine!", Thibodeau didn't succumb to the pressures of putting in Brian Scalabrine.

You know it's a blowout of a game when fans are cheering for Scalabrine. And the Bulls wouldn't have it any other way.

What's next: April 1: Bulls (54-20) @ Detroit Pistons (26-48). 6:30pm C.S.T. CSN+/ESPN 1000

The Bulls will tip off the new month in Detroit against a Pistons team that's faced several problems -- on and off the court.

The Bulls are two and a half games up on both Boston and Miami in the standings and barring a major collapse, the top spot in the East is all theirs. But they've still got to take care of business, and as Thibodeau and the players have harped all season long, it's about winning as many games as you can.

The Pistons simply stink and are 0-3 against the Bulls this season. The last matchup between the teams came on January 10, when the Bulls easily took care of the Pistons in a 95-82 win at the United Center.

With a 22-15 road record, the Bulls have came a far way from the team that was hovering around the .500 mark on the road. They're much more comfortable now and a loss against a lowly Detroit team would be disappointment as we finish out the regular season.    

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