D.J. Augustin scored 21 points and Joakim Noah posted his league-leading fourth triple-double of the season, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 102-87 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
Noah had 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to move into a tie with Indiana's Lance Stephenson for the most triple-doubles in the NBA this season. Kirk Hinrich scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and the Bulls hit 11 of 21 3-pointers to stay right on Toronto's heels for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Kevin Love had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Timberwolves. But he only made 7 of 20 shots and missed six of his eight 3-point attempts. Ricky Rubio added 15 points and six assists, but the Wolves were just 4 for 17 from long distance.
The Bulls entered the night with the same record as Toronto, with the tiebreaker going to the Raptors and only five games to play before the playoffs begin. The schedule certainly favors the Raptors, who beat the 76ers on Wednesday night and finish the season with two games against the Knicks and one each against the Pistons and Bucks.
Thanks to the raggedy East, the Bulls don't have it much tougher with the Pistons, Knicks and Magic coming up before the season finale at playoff-bound Charlotte. That made this game against short-handed Timberwolves a crucial one.
The Timberwolves played without Nikola Pekovic (right foot), Chase Budinger (right ankle), Kevin Martin (right heel), Shabazz Muhammad (right knee) and J.J. Barea (back and neck), leaving them with only 10 healthy players, and without three of their better offensive players to go at the tenacious Bulls defense.
But even though the Wolves have been eliminated from playoff contention, they've put up quite a fight against some of the best teams in the league down the stretch. Last week Minnesota beat Memphis at home and won at Miami. The Wolves then throttled the Spurs at Target Center on Tuesday night and shot 52.6 percent to take a 53-48 lead over the Bulls at halftime.
Eventually that Bulls defense started squeezing the Wolves and grinding the game down. The Wolves missed eight of their first 10 shots of the second half and scored only 17 points in the third quarter.
On the other end, the 3s kept falling. Mike Dunleavy, who had 15 points, hit one to give the Bulls a 65-62 lead they would never relinquish.
Augustin, who has resurrected his career in Chicago this season after being waived by the Raptors, hit two more in the fourth to help the Bulls pull away. Even bigger were his 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half, when the Bulls were struggling to get their offense going.