The Bulls bounced back from their losing streak with a key win at home over Indiana on Saturday night, and will now look to back that up when they take on the struggling Timberwolves, who sit third last in the Western Conference with no postseason dream ahead of them.
Minnesota have won just eight games on the road all season, but have surprisingly gone an impressive 10-14 against non-conference teams this year.
Chicago will seemingly still have plenty of work to do, then, if they want to record a victory and chalk up a guaranteed spot in the postseason this year.
Who will emerge in the winners' circle from this fascinating matchup? Read on for a full preview and analysis, as well as some last-minute predictions.
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
When: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Watch: WGN, FSNN-MIN (per NBA.com)
Live Stream: NBA League Pass (paid subscription required)
Betting Line: Chicago Bulls -1 (per Vegas Insider)
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
Chicago is definitely going to be without Derrick Rose (knee) and Richard Hamilton (foot), though Joakim Noah (foot) could possible make a return.
The star forward is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game.
Meanwhile, for the Timberwolves, both Brandon Roy (knee) and Malcolm Lee (knee) are out for the season. Star forward Kevin Love (hand) is still recovering from surgery and isn't expected to be available for Minnesota in this one.
Bulls Player to Watch: Carlos Boozer, F
In Rose's absence, Carlos Boozer has truly become the go-to player on the Bulls' squad this season, and has seemingly revealed in his new role.
The forward is combining very well with Luol Deng, and currently leads the team in points scored, rebounds and field goal percentage for the season. His most recent performance against the Pacers saw him chalk up 18 points and 10 rebounds in the win—numbers that he has achieved relatively consistently all season long, and will be looking to produce again here.
Boozer only played 27 minutes against the Pacers also (below his season average) and should be a key player to watch offensively for Chicago.
Timberwolves Player to Watch: Ricky Rubio, G
Having missed some time earlier in the year, guard Ricky Rubio is again proving to be a future star of the NBA as he leads the Timberwolves' offense. Without Kevin Love to dominate inside, Rubio will be important to their chances at success here and will definitely be the player to watch.
Other than a showing against Memphis where he only played 21 minutes, Rubio has chalked up at least 10 points and six assists in all but one game this March. His two most recent showings have seen him combine for 24 points, 13 rebounds, 17 assists and eight steals.
Rubio is in excellent form and will again be the Timberwolves' go-to player when they need something on offense, making him the key player to watch for here.
Key Matchup: Chicago Bulls' Rebounding without Joakim Noah
The Chicago Bulls are one of the strongest teams in the NBA on the offensive glass—reeling in an average of 12.76 offensive rebounds per game. However, when you take out the 4.06 rebounds that Noah accounts for (who won't play in this one), the Bulls rank just 27th in the league.
Minnesota rank 24th in the league for defensive rebounds, so there's a huge chance for the Bulls to capitalize offensively if they can rebound well.
However, without Noah, they will struggle to have the same impact, with pressure instantly shifting to Carlos Boozer (2.1 offensive rebounds per game) and Luol Deng (2.2 per game) to come up big for the Bulls.
With simply more to play for, and the home court advantage, it is hard to see the Chicago Bulls being troubled in this one. Even without their star players, they should have enough to beat a struggling Timberwolves side that's lost 27 out of their 35 games on the road this year.
However, having said that, Minnesota have been relatively strong (10-14) against non-conference opposition this year whilst the Bulls don't possess the greatest non-conference record (10-18) or home record (19-16) to speak of 2013. Thus, expect Ricky Rubio to keep this one close, and perhaps even lead this one for a significant period of time.
But in the end, Chicago should get home, and move one step closer to that playoff berth they've desperately been eyeing off for some time now.
Final score: Chicago 88, Minnesota 81
Who do you think will win this one? Chicago or Minnesota?
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