MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Playing hard for new coach Kevin McHale, the
Minnesota Timberwolves forged a comeback and gave themselves a great chance to win a close game.
In a manner befitting their unexpectedly frustrating season, they simply wound up a little short.
Reserve Ben Gordon had 21 points and eight rebounds and the Chicago Bulls spoiled McHale's first game on Minnesota's bench with a 87-83 victory over the Timberwolves on Sunday.
McHale, who fired his longtime friend Flip Saunders on Saturday, was on the sideline for the first time since his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics ended in 1993.
"Superman's not going to walk through that door," said Kevin Garnett, who had 23 points, 14 rebounds and three missed field-goal attempts in the final minute. "Kevin's not going to put (No. 32) on and come out here and help us. It's up to everybody here to take a look at themselves and look in the mirror and figure out what they can do. We've got to figure this out for ourselves."
Eddy Curry scored 17 points and Kirk Hinrich added 15 points for the Bulls, whose 20-2 run bridging the first and second quarters was ultimately the difference. Extra energy derived from the coach switch wasn't quite enough for Minnesota.
"You always worry about that," Hinrich said. "Whenever there's a new voice, guys step up their performance. They played hard, that's for sure."
Latrell Sprewell scored 26 points for the Timberwolves, who have lost eight of their last nine games.
"Overall, we fought hard," McHale said. "That's the first thing that I asked of them. Forget Xs and Os. We need to go out and fight."
Chicago's big spurt lasted more than eight minutes, a span in which Minnesota went without a field goal. The drought started when McHale put Michael Olowokandi in for Garnett with 2:49 left in the first.
After winning the league's MVP award last year, Garnett's numbers are nearly as good -- but he hasn't been his usual dominant self. One problem is that he's been bothered by a sore knee.
"When your knee bothers you, it's going to affect a lot of stuff," McHale said.
Garnett wasn't willing to discuss his health.
"Next question," he said.
After trailing by as many as 14 points in the first half, the Wolves crept back and regained the lead, 77-76, on a jump shot in the lane by Olowokandi midway through the fourth quarter.
Gordon, who shot 2-for-10 from the field in the second half, tipped in his own miss to put the Bulls in front 82-81 with 2:10 left.
Garnett missed a tough jump shot in traffic and then, soaring high to grab his own rebound, watched his dunk attempt bounce out. Hinrich caught the carom and raced the other way, getting fouled and making 1-of-2 free throws with 33 seconds left.
Given a chance to tie, Garnett -- tightly guarded by Tyson Chandler -- missed a turnaround in the lane. Gordon sank two foul shots on the other end to seal it.
"We made some strides, like the other night," Garnett said. "It's not something that's going to happen on its own. We're not going to quit. We're going to continue to work."
As Minnesota's vice president of basketball operations, McHale -- fed up with the Wolves' struggles -- made the move to try to jump-start one of the NBA's most disappointing teams. After advancing to the West finals last season and returning every key player, Minnesota was supposed to be a leading title contender.
"We knew they'd come out firing," Chandler said. "That's what happens with a change. Guys who are looking for a boost usually get it."
Bringing a 3-14 record into the game on Dec. 11, the Bulls beat the Timberwolves 99-88 at home. Minnesota, 13-6 before that defeat, is 12-21 since. Chicago is 21-9.
"That's a quality club, whatever their record is," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "We're fortunate enough to go 2-0 against them this year. We've got to take that, be happy about it and get out of here before they take it away from us."
Fred Hoiberg, who spent four seasons with Chicago before joining the Timberwolves in the summer of 2003, was inadvertently poked in the left eye by Gordon late in the second quarter. Hoiberg returned to the bench in the third quarter, but not to the court. ... With 24, the Bulls have one more win than last season. Minnesota's 27 losses already exceed last season's total by three.
... Wally Szczerbiak (flu) and Sam Cassell (strained right hamstring) were out for the Wolves.