By Mike McGraw
Another day, another injury for the Bulls.
This time, it was an abdominal strain that sidelined Marco Belinelli on Sunday. Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) didn’t make the trip to Minnesota, while Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton remain out indefinitely.
The good news was Daequan Cook recovered from a thigh bruise that knocked him out of Saturday’s game against Indiana and the Bulls had enough healthy players to control the struggling Timberwolves.
The hustling Bulls built a 20-6 advantage on the offensive boards and cruised past Minnesota 104-97 at the Target Center, winning their second game in as many nights.
Nate Robinson led the Bulls with 22 points, while Jimmy Butler, starting in place of Belinelli, scored 20 points and played 44 minutes.
Robinson was ejected from Saturday’s win over the Pacers in the third quarter. He was called for a grade 2 flagrant foul for a takedown of Indiana’s Lane Stephenson on a fast break.
“Nate got ejected yesterday, so he was rested,” Luol Deng joked. “He had a lot of energy for us tonight. That was great.”
Three different Bulls grabbed double-digit rebounds. Carlos Boozer had 19 points and 12 boards, Taj Gibson finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Nazr Mohammed, starting in place of Noah, grabbed 10 boards.
Cook led the late-game comeback against Indiana on Saturday after not playing at all in the previous two contests, then was injured while crashing into a courtside photographer. He wasn’t at his best in Minnesota, scoring 2 points, but was healthy enough to allow coach Tom Thibodeau to use an eight-man rotation. Only Butler and Deng played more than 40 minutes.
“Thibs is constantly telling us that we have enough to win on any given night,” Butler told reporters after the game. “As long as we go out and play hard, guard, and play for one another, we can win no matter how many men we’re down.”
The Bulls (38-31) fell behind early 12-5 before a couple of Kirk Hinrich jumpers ignited the offense. They finished the first quarter on an 18-6 run and never again trailed.
After the Bulls’ lead peaked at 16 points, Minnesota made a run in the fourth quarter, pulling within 90-85 with 6:20 remaining on a jumper from Dante Cunningham. On the other end, Deng rebounded a Butler miss and Robinson canned a 3-pointer to end the Minnesota momentum.
Butler added 3 free throws, including a technical foul on J.J. Barea. Gibson added a 3-point play and Robinson drained another 3-pointer to put the game away. As a team, the Bulls hit 10- of-26 shots from 3-point range.
“I’m an energy guy off the bench, just get guys fired up,” Robinson said. “I think I do a pretty good job of that.”
The Bulls got to take a look at another point guard who is recovering from ACL surgery. Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio was injured last March, about seven weeks before Rose suffered his knee injury. Rubio, who has played in 42 games this season, had 15 points and 8 rebounds against the Bulls.
Minnesota is hoping to get all-star forward Kevin Love back from a hand injury before the season ends.
“They could complain about how many guys they’ve got hurt and they don’t do that,” Rubio said. “They just play aggressive. We have to learn from that. If they can do it, we can do it, too.”
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