MINNEAPOLIS—Seconds before tipoff Sunday afternoon, veteran official Bob Delaney walked up to John Paxson as Paxson prepared to don his headphones for his radio broadcast.
"Are you the boss?" Delaney said.
The Bulls' season ends Tuesday. The road season ended, mercifully, at the Target Center on Sunday, where Wally Szczerbiak's torrid performance led the Timberwolves to a 119-95 victory before 18,171.
Szczerbiak burned a host of Bulls defenders to the tune of 44 points on 19-for-26 shooting in just 37 minutes, setting a Target Center record with 22 third-quarter points, tying a franchise record for overall points and posting a Bulls opponent season high for field goals.
The fourth-year swingman went 6-for-7 from three-point land and posted his career high without attempting a free throw.
"We didn't handle that matchup well," said Jalen Rose, who started on Szczerbiak and mastered the art of understatement.
The margin of defeat paled in comparison with the franchise-worst, 53-point drubbing in the Bulls' last regular-season meeting here in November 2001.
But the 11th straight road loss dropped a resounding thud on a 3-38 road campaign, the worst in franchise history and an issue Jerry Krause's successorstill expected to be Paxsonwill address quickly.
Only 10 teams in the 35 seasons of 82-game schedules have won three or fewer road games. The Bulls tied eight other teams for the third-worst road mark in such a season.
The Bulls, who have lost eight straight to Minnesota, again played without Eddie Robinson and Donyell Marshall.
The former sat with a migraine headache, again paving the way for Rose, Jay Williams and Jamal Crawford to start together.
Crawford and Williams combined for 40 points, with Crawford's 22 leading all Bulls. But thanks to perimeter defenders allowing Szczerbiak to score 19 in a 6-minute-23-second stretch in the third quarter, coach Bill Cartwright still sounds displeased with the lineup.
"That's not my first choice," he said. "We don't want to have to score 110 points to win games. We want to be able to stop somebody. You've got to be able to guard your position if you're going to compromise it by going with a smaller lineup. That's why my tendency is to choose to go bigger at those positions."
Marshall's first season with the Bulls ended when his right shoulder strain landed him on the injured list. Guard Fred Hoiberg was activated but didn't play.
Marshall, who battled nagging injuries all season while averaging 13.4 points and nine rebounds in 78 games, also will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Monday. He will be completely recovered by next season, when Cartwright already can imagine him forming a potent reserve corps with Marcus Fizer.
"Donyell's value is that he can play three positions," Cartwright said. "He can post up some and is a very good face-up shooter. He rebounds the ball well on both ends, so he's just very versatile."
So is Kevin Garnett, who tallied 14 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists in just 30 minutes.
The loss forces the Bulls to win their season finale on Tuesday against Philadelphia to reach Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's goal of 30 victories.
Eddy Curry, trying to finish as the NBA leader in field-goal percentage, had a 4-for-12 game. His .576 field-goal percentage is barely ahead of Shaquille O'Neal's .571.
For one game, Szczerbiak shot 73 percent. For whatever this is worth, Krause always liked Szczerbiak.
"People might not like the decisions Jerry made, but he was proactive," said Flip Saunders, Minnesota's coach and a confidante of Krause's. "The Bulls are one of the bright, young teams in the league. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Jerry come back with another team."