Even with Jimmy Butler plying his craft for the Philadelphia 76ers, there will be a sense of familiarity on Saturday night when the Minnesota Timberwolves host the Chicago Bulls.
While it will be the third meeting between the teams since Butler was dealt to Minnesota by the Bulls for a package that netted Chicago Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, it will be the first since Derrick Rose was reunited with coach Tom Thibodeau.
The current version of Rose is similar to the effective scorer he was for most his time in Chicago, just in a different role as a reserve player. After scoring 25 points on 11 of 17 from the floor in 29:27 in Friday’s 112-102 win over Brooklyn, Rose is averaging 19.4 points in his first 17 games with Minnesota.
“I say this all of the time, I’ve watched most of his games,” said Thibodeau, who coached Rose during his five seasons in Chicago from 2010-15. “I watched him the year he was in New York. The only time he hasn’t played well is when he was injured, so I’m not surprised.”
Rose led the Wolves in scoring for the fifth time and produced his eighth 20-point game of the season on Friday when they won for the fourth time in six games since getting Robert Covington and Dario Saric for Butler on Nov. 12.
“I love telling Derrick how good he is and how MVP Derrick (has) always been there and is still there,” Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said.
Rose is facing his original team for the third time. He scored 32 points in two games against the Bulls during his lone season with the New York Knicks.
Before trading Butler, the Wolves were allowing 117.7 points per game while losing nine of their first 13. After holding Brooklyn to 41.8 percent shooting Friday, the Wolves are allowing 102.3 points per game in their last six while holding their opponents to 42.3 percent from the floor.
The Wolves won in spite of Towns picking up five fouls as they worked around his foul trouble. Towns scored 17 of his 21 points in the third quarter Friday in between getting called for his third and fourth fouls.
“I trust every single person in the locker room to get the job done,” Towns said after a game when former Bulls forward Taj Gibson also contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota.
Towns has been getting it done of late as well. In his last six games, Towns is averaging 20.3 points and 13.7 rebounds and shooting 54.1 percent.
All three pieces from the Butler trade still remain with the Bulls, but only LaVine is playing right now since Dunn is recovering from a left MCL sprain and Markkanen is recovering from a sprained right elbow.
LaVine is averaging 25.4 points per game and scored 24 on 11-of-27 shooting Friday, but the Bulls shot 37.2 percent in a 103-96 home loss to the Miami Heat and have lost 10 of their last 13 games.
While Chicago absorbed its eighth single-digit loss, it was done in by shooting 2 of 19 and committing nine turnovers in the second quarter when it was outscored 32-13.
“That was the difference,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team is averaging 24.7 points in second quarters. “It’s been a tough quarter for us all year long. We just didn’t have any resiliency in that second quarter to fight through the tough times.”
“No, we were not,” guard Justin Holiday told reporters when asked if Chicago was competing hard enough in the second quarter. “I don’t know the reason. We have to find a way not to have those times.”
Holiday led the Bulls with 27 points Friday while Jabari Parker added 23 after missing his first eight shots.
Minnesota has won the last three home meetings with the Bulls, and Thibodeau is 3-1 against his former team.
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