MINNEAPOLIS — Derrick Rose looked to be cruising toward a much-needed easy night after a dominant first quarter put the Chicago Bulls up big on the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Ricky Rubio then made him work for everything he got the rest of the way and may have forced his way into Minnesota's starting lineup in the process.
Rose scored a season-high 31 points and had 11 assists to outlast Rubio in a thrilling duel, leading the Bulls to a 111-100 victory over the Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
"The way it started off we thought it was going to be a good game," said Rose, who played the entire second half after the Wolves erased a 24-point, second-quarter deficit. "It took another turn where we weren't playing defense, they were knocking down their shots, executing their plays and we were really getting hurt."
Luol Deng had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Kyle Korver scored 13 points off the bench for the Bulls, who appeared to be on their way to a blowout early before Rubio led the Wolves back with a 20-2 run at the end of the second quarter.
Rubio had 13 points, 12 assists and four rebounds. Luke Ridnour scored 22 points for the Timberwolves, who just couldn't find an answer for Rose down the stretch.
The reigning MVP shrugged off a mid-game shooting slump to score on an explosion to the basket and then knocked down a little one-handed jumper for an eight-point lead with 2:30 to play.
"At the end we just found a way to win," said Rose, whose Bulls are in the middle of a stretch of nine games in 12 days.
Kevin Love finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but his shooting woes continued as he made 5 of 18. Anthony Randolph scored 18 points for the Wolves, who have played contenders Oklahoma City, Miami and Chicago tough only to lose in the end.
The Bulls outrebounded Minnesota 47-30 and Ronnie Brewer scored 17 points to help them to their eighth win in nine games. But Rose was the leader as usual, hitting 4 of 8 3-pointers.
"It happens a lot of times that we played and we are down and then it's when we react," Rubio said. "If we want to win, we have to start from the beginning."
That may be happening sooner than later. Wolves coach Rick Adelman used Rubio off the bench through the first 10 games, but with the starting group digging big holes recently, a move could be coming as soon as Friday in New Orleans.
Starters Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic and Wayne Ellington all played fewer than 10 minutes on Tuesday night, with Adelman going for the energy of Rubio, Randolph, Anthony Tolliver and Derrick Williams. After the game, for the first time all season, Adelman didn't rule out a change to the starting lineup.
"I have two days to think about it," he said.
Rubio's reputation grew when the Spaniard went up against Rose in international play, stripping him on two of the U.S.' first three trips up the floor in an exhibition game.
The two electrifying point guards were neck-and-neck for the final three quarters. Rose had 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting with nine assists and three turnovers in the final 36 minutes while Rubio had 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting with 12 assists, four steals and four turnovers.
"Rubio played a hell of a game," Rose said.
The Bulls knew the Wolves were playing their third game in three nights, and they came out firing. Rose scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter and the Bulls hit 20 of their first 29 shots.
"He's great," Rubio said. "It's hard to defense him. Maybe he's one of the best, if not the best, player I've ever played against. ... It's hard to guard him. He's the fastest guy I ever played."
Rubio was magnificent during the half-closing surge, assisting or scoring on all but two of the 20 points. He set Love up for three 3-pointers, knocked down a jumper and a free throw and threw a one-handed lob to Randolph that sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy.
Rubio, Randolph and Tolliver started the second half as well, and Ridnour's 3 tied the game at 70 with 3:45 to play in the third quarter.
The Bulls were able to hold on, and now will play Washington at home on Wednesday night trying to join the Thunder as teams to sweep three games in three nights.
"We'll have to see," said Rose, who went to the locker room briefly in the second quarter after aggravating a turf toe injury. "Tomorrow, I'm not sitting out. I know that. I'll be playing."
NOTES: Bulls G Rip Hamilton did not play because of a sore left groin that has kept him out of five of the last six games. C.J. Watson was out with a sprained left elbow. ... Wolves F Michael Beasley was in a walking boot before the game and said it is uncertain when he will return. He said he still feels some pain when walks, primarily when he is on his tip toes. ... Korver went 3 for 3 from 3-point range and has now hit 13 of his last 20 from distance.