Just one week ago, the Chicago Bulls appeared to be getting their season turned around. Their defense was looking solid and a season best winning streak moved them into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
They are no longer playing like a playoff-caliber team.
The struggling Bulls look to avoid losing four consecutive games Saturday night when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With a 101-93 win over Orlando on Jan. 2, Chicago (14-20) won its fourth straight game to climb into seventh place in the East. A poor defense was a big reason for the team's early troubles, but the Bulls buckled down on the defensive end during their winning streak, allowing an average of 90.0 points and 39.3 percent shooting.
Chicago's defense hasn't been nearly effective lately, however. The Bulls failed to come up with many key stops in Friday's 96-93 loss at Milwaukee, allowing the Bucks to score 32 fourth-quarter points. Chicago is allowing an average of 102.3 points during a three-game skid that has dropped it to 10th in the conference.
Despite Chicago's recent defensive struggles, Derrick Rose continues to make plays on the other end of the court.
Rose finished with 25 points and nine assists Friday and appears to be fully recovered from a right-ankle injury that slowed him early in the season. The reigning Rookie of the Year is averaging 24.4 points and 6.8 assists in his last 10 games after averaging 16.4 points and 5.4 assists in his first 24.
Rose averaged 20.0 points and 6.0 assists in two games against the Timberwolves last season, both losses.
Minnesota, which has won five of the last six meetings with the Bulls, is coming off a 116-109 win over Indiana on Friday.
After leading by 15 points late in the third quarter, the Timberwolves (8-29) managed to withstand a furious comeback by the Pacers to snap a five-game losing streak. Minnesota, which outrebounded Indiana 56-36, allowed the Pacers to get within one point but didn't fold.
"We were able to sustain it," Kevin Love said. "We had big rebounding and got big stops at the end and that won us the game."
Love had 18 points and 13 rebounds for his 16th double-double in 19 games after missing the first month of the season with a fractured left hand. He averaged 18.5 points and 13.5 boards in two games against the Bulls last season.
In addition to coming up with key stops late, the Timberwolves also were able to get off to a strong start to the second half -- another thing that has eluded the team all season. After being down by a point at the half, Minnesota went on a 17-0 run early in the third quarter.
"I was proud of what the guys did and I was happy how they came out of the locker room (at halftime)," coach Kurt Rambis said. "That's a huge step for them. I hope it continues."
Building on this performance might not be that easy for the Minnesota, which is set to open a four-game road trip.
The Timberwolves are 3-14 away from Minnesota and have yielded at least 117 points in three of their last four road games.