The Timberwolves' upbeat assessment of their six-point loss to Chicago was interesting, given how the Bulls mostly dominated the fourth quarter. I guess when your two best scorers combine to shoot 8-for-24, as Al Jefferson and Kevin Love did despite rarely taking any shot longer than six feet, you figure the loss is a fluke.
And maybe it is. Kurt Rambis said after the game that he was proud of his team's defensive effort, and more than one player seemed surprised, rather than frustrated, by the loss.
But it's a dangerous slope they're on -- the losing streak is five now, and check out the schedule: The Wolves' next 10 opponents have winning records, and the next 18 -- yes, eighteen! -- games are either on the road or against winning teams. Sixteen of the next 18 are against playoff teams. On paper, the easiest game in the next six weeks is either a home game against Houston (28-25), or road games at Sacramento (18-36) or Charlotte (26-26); before chalking up any victories there, remember, the Wolves are 4-24 away from Target Center.
In other words, this losing streak could easily grow into double digits, and an incredibly difficult March is almost a certainty, even if they continue to play hard. So blowing a chance at a victory, as they did on Friday, should sting a little bit more.
It was the perfect chance to catch the Bulls, after all, given that they were missing Joakim Noah and figured to be at least mildly demoralized by the salary-dump trades of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas. Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray, probably headed for other teams after the season, were making their Chicago debuts.
But in the fourth quarter, it was the Bulls who appeared energized and organized, while the Wolves fell apart. Warrick and Murray combined to score eight of Chicago's 23 points in the period, while Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and Ryan Gomes combined to miss all eight shots they took.
And yet: "I thought we did a lot of really good things," Rambis said. "We played good enough defense to win a lot of basketball games."
Just not this one.
A couple other points from Minnesota's first home game in 10 days:
-- I thought the Wolves might get a lift from the final play of the third quarter, but it didn't happen. Still, it was quite a play. The Bulls dribbled the clock down for what they thought would be the final shot, and Luol Deng took an 18-footer with five seconds left. The rebound bounced off a defender and flew toward halfcourt, where Ramon Sessions corralled it just before it flew out of bounds. He regained his balance and whipped a pass to Damien Wilkins, streaking toward the basket. Wilkins caught the pass and quickly slammed home a dunk, beating the horn by less than a second. The play pulled the Wolves to within a point, but five minutes later, the Bulls owned a double-digit lead.
-- The last play of the second quarter was interesting, too, because it appeared Rambis was trying to pull off a little misinformation. As Derrick Rose dribbled out the clock near halfcourt, waiting to make his move, Rambis yelled to Jonny Flynn, "You're all by yourself! You're all by yourself!" Maybe Rose believed the Wolves really were guarding him one-on-one, because he suddenly cut to the basket -- where Ryan Gomes and Ryan Hollins had raced to guard the basket. Rose had to make an awkward pass, and Warrick missed an off-balance jumper.
-- Less than four minutes had passed Friday when Corey Brewer hit a personal milestone by sinking a three-pointer from a step behind the line. That extended Brewer's streak to 20 consecutive games with a three-pointer -- a particularly impressive stretch considering Brewer had made a trey in only 19 games in his career before the streak started. The Wolves' third-year guard, who led them with 19 points Friday, has made 38 of 84 long shots in his last 20 games, a 45.2 percent success rate.
-- What's with Kevin Love? The 3-for-11 shooting night seemed to affect his all-around game, because Love gathered only six rebounds and had difficultly guarding rookie Taj Gibson, who made six of seven shots on the night. Love is averaging 15.1 points on the season, but he's reached that number only twice in seven February games, and he's reached his rebounding average (of 11.5) only three times this month. Things went so badly for him Friday, Love didn't play the final six minutes.
-- Good crowd of 18,183 in Target Center on Friday, largest since Dec. 5. Maybe it's those throwback jerseys. The crowd even gave a standing ovation -- but not for a basketball player. Former Vikings' defensive end John Randle, elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this month, was introduced during the third quarter, and received a loud 30-second hand.
-- Overheard: Rambis complaining to referee David Jones about Hollins' offensive foul early in the fourth quarter. Rambis pointed at Bulls center Brad Miller and shouted, "He's a flopper! He's a flopper!"
-- Alando Tucker was in uniform for Friday's game, but once again didn't play. His eight-minute stint Jan. 26 in New York is still Tucker's only appearance for the Wolves, who acquired the former Wisconsin guard from Phoenix in December.
-- PHIL MILLER