MINNEAPOLIS — It didn’t take long for Andrew Wiggins to show the Chicago Bulls just how badly they’re going to miss Jimmy Butler.
With the All-Star and defensive stopper back at home thanks to an injured knee, Wiggins torched the rest of the Bulls’ perimeter defence during a dazzling display down the stretch.
Wiggins scored six of his 21 points in the final 90 seconds and the Minnesota Timberwolves closed the game with a 12-0 run to surge past the Bulls in a 112-105 victory on Saturday night.
The Wolves were down five with 2:30 to play before kicking it into gear. Wiggins hit a pair of jumpers and a tough one in the paint after a quiet first three quarters. Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 17 rebounds and Gorgui Dieng added a career-high 24 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the Wolves, who have won two in a row for the first time since Dec. 18-20.
"I’m confident in my shot, even when they don’t fall," said Wiggins, who was 4 for 6 in the fourth and 4 for 11 before that. "I can get air balls and still make the shots the same. My team trusts me to make the plays and that’s what I’m trying to do."
Pau Gasol had 25 points and eight rebounds and Derrick Rose had 18 points, 10 assists and five rebounds for the Bulls in their first game without Butler, how strained his left knee on Friday night against Denver.
There is no timetable for Butler’s return, but the team was encouraged when an MRI showed no structural damage to his knee.
"They went to Wiggins. We had a smaller guy on him," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Obviously Jimmy is missed in those types of situations, guarding a bigger wing like that."
Gasol missed the game against the Nuggets on Friday night and was questionable for the game with a sore left hand. But he played with a big black wrap to protect it. He showed no ill effects, making 8 of 16 shots to keep the Bulls in the game.
The Timberwolves were missing Kevin Garnett (leg), Kevin Martin (wrist) and Nikola Pekovic (foot), but Dieng has blossomed since moving into the starting lineup for Garnett six games ago. He came into the night averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds on 64 per cent shooting in those games, and he made 10 of 13 shots on Saturday night.
The game was tight the whole way and included 10 lead changes in the fourth quarter before Bobby Portis’s layup gave Chicago a 105-100 lead with under three minutes to play.
The Wolves found another gear after that and closed out their first season sweep of the Bulls since 2008-09.
"There’s a change in their body language, their mentality, how they walk in the gym, how they practice and prepare," Wolves coach Sam Mitchell said. "When I walk in the locker room before the game, there’s a certain professionalism. These young guys are learning what it takes to be pros."
In addition to the relatively good news the Bulls got on Butler, they also saw Mike Dunleavy make his season debut after missing the first 49 games while recovering from back surgery. Dunleavy played 14 minutes and scored five points.
"Little late the party but good to be back," he said. "I felt quite honestly like I hadn’t played in eight months, but I got a little better rhythm in the second half."
Hoiberg spent seven years in Minnesota as a player and executive for the Timberwolves and still has a lake home in the area. About 600 fans made the trip up from Ames, Iowa to cheer on the former Iowa State player and coach and his wife, Carol, had a suite with many friends and family from the area.
"I’ve got great memories of my time here," said Hoiberg, who was on the Timberwolves team that lost to the Lakers in the 2004 Western Conference finals. "I truly believe if Sam Cassell would have stayed healthy and not forced me to play point guard that we would have won a championship."
Bulls: E’Twaun Moore had 17 points and seven assists while starting for Butler. … The Bulls are 2-4 on their road trip with one more to go.
Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio had 14 points, six assists and five rebounds. … The Wolves out-rebounding Chicago 45-31 to offset a 3-point shooting deficit. They were 1 for 12 from deep while the Bulls were 8 for 20.
Bulls: Visit Charlotte on Monday.
Timberwolves: Host New Orleans on Monday.