Nuggets' bounce-back chance comes vs. Bulls
The Denver Nuggets took it on the chin against the best in the Western Conference, so facing one of the worst teams in the East two days later is a welcome reprieve and a chance to show they learned something from the loss.
The lesson was a harsh one, and it came at the hands of the two-time reigning champion.
A 142-111 home loss to Golden State knocked Denver (29-14) a half-game behind the Warriors in the Western Conference standings, but with the Chicago Bulls in town Thursday night there's no time to mope.
"We'll watch some film, learn there," guard Jamal Murray said after the loss.
The Nuggets had their 12-game home winning streak snapped but can start a new streak against a Bulls team that is clearly in rebuilding mode. Chicago (10-34) has lost eight in a row and is on its second head coach this season.
The Bulls have some talent, namely guard Zach LaVine and second-year forward Lauri Markkanen, but they should be no match for Denver.
The Nuggets should know they can't take anyone lightly -- even Chicago. It's a lesson they learned last year when the struggling Atlanta Hawks came in and beat them at Pepsi Center. Denver missed the playoffs by one game.
"We need to fail big because then you're going to start thinking about what you did to bring you to that high level," center Nikola Jokic said after Tuesday's game. "We're not a bad team. This fail is going to make us think about what we did to get to this level."
Chicago is struggling, but it's a scrappy team. The Bulls, in a 107-100 loss at the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, trailed by 10 late but made the Lakers work for the win. But without a dominant talent to help carry them, it is difficult to win on the road.
"We have to play better basketball for more of the game. We played about 28 to 35 minutes of good basketball and had 12 minutes of not-good basketball," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said after the game.
"We don't have enough firepower to be able to turn it on and take over the game. We have to plow through it and get the lead and hold on to it."
That might be hard to do against Denver.
The Nuggets sat atop the Western Conference despite playing for long stretches without three starters. Will Barton and Paul Millsap are back, and guard Gary Harris is close to returning from a left hamstring injury that has sidelined him the last five games.
Harris was questionable to play Thursday.
Chicago ruled out rookie forward Wendell Carter Jr., who has a sprained left thumb after the team feared a more serious injury. Carter, considered day-to-day, is averaging 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
The Bulls also have a revenge angle to work. They had Denver beat at home on Halloween, but Millsap's put-back at the overtime buzzer gave the Nuggets a 108-107 win.
Trying to avenge that loss might have been an advantage, but after the Nuggets were routed at home by Golden State, they are likely to want to want to make a statement.
"Hopefully this can be a motivating factor for us," coach Michael Malone said Tuesday night.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 17, 2019