Markkanen returns, but T-wolves too tough for Bulls

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls' Shaquille Harrison, left, gets off a pass as Minnesota Timberwolves' Josh Okogie defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 4, 2020 in Minneapolis.

    Chicago Bulls' Shaquille Harrison, left, gets off a pass as Minnesota Timberwolves' Josh Okogie defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 4, 2020 in Minneapolis. Associated Press

  • Minnesota Timberwolves' D'Angelo Russell, right, keeps an eye on Chicago Bulls' Ryan Arcidiacono in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 4, 2020 in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves won 115-108. Russell had 19 points.

    Minnesota Timberwolves' D'Angelo Russell, right, keeps an eye on Chicago Bulls' Ryan Arcidiacono in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 4, 2020 in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves won 115-108. Russell had 19 points. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/4/2020 10:22 PM

Players are coming back from injuries, but the force is not with the Bulls.

Wednesday's trip to Minnesota appeared to be a winnable game, but poor defense and indifferent rebounding were familiar issues for the Bulls. They lost 115-108, despite another solid game from rookie Coby White, who had 26 points and 6 assists.

 

This game featured the return of Lauri Markkanen, who had been out since Jan. 24 with a stress reaction in his pelvis. It was also the second game back from injury for Otto Porter, third game back for Wendell Carter Jr., and the second game missed by leading scorer Zach LaVine due to a left quad strain.

"I don't care who's coming back, I don't care who's been out, who's working on a minute restriction, I didn't think we were tough enough tonight and I didn't like it," coach Jim Boylen told reporters after the loss.

Boylen is usually positive and supportive of his players after losses, but this time he let his frustration show. Minnesota shot 50 percent from the field and grabbed 10 offensive rebounds.

"What I'm talking about -- and it's not negativity, I'm coaching this team -- you've got to play your minutes with force, whether you haven't played in two months or not," he said. "You play hard, compete, rebound the ball. That's all I'm talking about. You can't control making shots. We can control our effort on the defensive board.

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"They got 25 percent of their missed shots back. That's too many. Can't happen. Can't happen that way. We challenged our group. We've got to be tougher, we've got to be more competitive in these moments where there's 50-50 balls in the air, we've got to do a better job."

Markkanen did reasonably well, hitting 6 of 10 shots for 13 points in 21 minutes. Porter didn't have a good night, going 1-for-8 from the field for 2 points in 18 minutes. Carter contributed 6 points and a team-high 9 rebounds.

Minnesota (19-42) had a hot hand from 3-point range, especially in the second half. After the Bulls closed within 99-93 with seven minutes left, Jordan McLaughlin finished a driving dunk, ex-Bull James Johnson canned a 3-pointer, then Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez added layups to boost the lead to 11 points.

This was another night when the Bulls had a glaring lack of two-way players. Their best scorers are poor defenders and their better defensive players struggle to hit shots. Although defensive specialist Shaq Harrison did score a season-high 17 points and went 3-for-3 from 3-point range on Wednesday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Bulls are constantly getting beat off the dribble, which usually causes the big man to step out and help, giving up easy layups or putbacks at the rim. Or the opponent kicks it out for an open 3-pointer.

Minnesota's lead peaked at 113-99 after a 3-pointer by D'Angelo Russell. The Bulls made a late flurry to give themselves a chance. Ryan Arcidiacono hit a 3, then Harrison stole the ball quickly and added a hoop to bring the Bulls within 113-108 with 1:08 left.

They forced Russell to take a long 3-pointer on the next trip, but the Bulls couldn't chase down the long rebound, so the Timberwolves got it back and eventually hit 2 free throws.

"When you do play your minutes, you have to play them with more physicality," Boylen said. "Again, we've got guys coming back, NBA game is hard; guys have been out a long time, a couple of them. I get it. I get it. But that's not who we're going to be. They know. Our guys are good guys. They understand."

White hit 11 of 22 shots and would have had a few more assists if his teammates could have knocked down some open shots. Minnesota finished the night 19 of 43 from 3-point range. The Bulls were 11-for-30.

Minnesota had lost 20 of 22 games going back to Jan. 11. But the Timberwolves ended that streak with a high-scoring win at New Orleans on Tuesday night, which meant they had to fly the length of the Mississippi River to get home and play the second leg of a back-to-back set against the Bulls.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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