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Banged-up Bulls deliver on road to top Timberwolves 104-97

MinnesotTimberwolves' Chase Budinger right slows Chicago Bulls' Luol Deng who drives inhim first quarter an NBA basketball game Sunday March

Minnesota Timberwolves' Chase Budinger, right, slows Chicago Bulls' Luol Deng who drives into him in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game on Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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Updated: March 25, 2013 12:25AM



MINNEAPOLIS — When coach Tom Thibodeau repeats the same message over and over again, it isn’t supposed to entertain the media. It’s supposed to get his players to believe it as gospel.

It might have reached that point Sunday.

With Joakim Noah (right foot), Richard Hamilton (back), Derrick Rose (left knee) and Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) out of the lineup, Kirk Hinrich on a minutes watch and Daequan Cook coming off a bruised thigh that forced him out of the game Saturday against the Pacers, the Bulls still found a way to hold off the Timberwolves at the Target Center in a 104-97 victory.

“I feel like if you hear the same things every day, you start to buy into it,’’ said swingman Jimmy Butler, who got the starting nod for Belinelli. “Thibs is constantly telling us that we have enough to win on any given night, so I feel like as long as we play hard, guard and play for one another, we can win no matter how many men we’re down.’’

Butler was the latest poster boy for that theory, tying a career high with 20 points, and Nate Robinson came off the bench to score 22 points and hand out 10 assists.

But it was a play by a regular that helped push the Bulls (38-31) to their second consecutive victory. With just under six minutes left and Minnesota making a push after cutting the lead from 16 to five, Luol Deng fought for an offensive rebound, then found an open Robinson, who made a three-pointer that seemed to break the Timberwolves’ spirit.

Deng finished with 17 points and seven rebounds.

“We had a couple of those in the fourth quarter that were just huge,’’ Thibodeau said of Deng’s play. “That’s finding a way to win. We’re a little disjointed right now. We’ve got a lot of guys in and out, so it’s hard to build a rhythm. But that’s a big-time play, and to me, that’s what gets overlooked with Luol all the time.

“People look at, ‘OK, so he doesn’t shoot the ball well in a game, so he’s not playing well.’ Well, that’s never the case with Luol because of all the other things he does on the floor. His rebounding, his playmaking, his individual defense, his team defense, you can’t overlook that.’’

The Bulls will have two days off before their biggest regular-season game of the season. The Heat is coming in on a possible 27-game winning streak if it beats the Magic on Monday night.

Thibodeau said that Belinelli, Noah, Hamilton and Rose were all day-to-day, so it could be left to the same group that beat Minnesota to try to slow down the Heat’s run at history.

“If the Miami Heat were coming in and they didn’t have the record, it would still be a big game,’’ Deng said. “We’re approaching it as a game we want to win. Yeah, obviously, it’s going to be in the back of our mind that they got a streak and in the back of their mind, but the bottom line is just getting the win.’’



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