Nuggets fall to Bulls to suffer their third straight loss

The Denver Nuggets dropped their third straight game on Friday night against the Bulls but they didn’t go down without a fight.

Aaron Gordon played his best game of the season registering 28 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks but Zach LaVine’s 36 points and DeMar DeRozan going 12-for-12 from the free throw line down the stretch sealed the deal for Chicago in a 114-108 win.

Denver was undermanned once again. This time they played without their superstar Nikola Jokic who sat out with a sore wrist. He hurt it in Thursday nights loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. There is no timetable for his return but Michael Malone remains optimistic that he won’t be out for too long.

“He has gotten X-Rays, he has gotten MRI’s, and he has been talking with the doctors,” Malone said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a long term thing at all but at the same time I don’t want to put him out there if he can only play with one hand. It’s just unfair to ask him to do that. So when he’s ready to play he’ll play. There’s no timeline at this point.”

So that’s three key starters out for Denver against one of the best teams in the East. The Nuggets have struggled getting production from their bench unit all season and needed it to step up big. This time, those players did not disappoint.

Gordon was aggressive early and went off for 10 points in the first quarter. He threw down a few dunks and hit a post up turnaround jumper over LaVine that was an absolute beauty. He only had nine points in the last game so it was important for him to get going.

Monte Morris, leading the offense, added nine points and helped give the Nuggets an 11-point lead late in the first quarter but the Bulls eventually took a 30-28 lead with just under a minute to go. PJ Dozier, who went scoreless last game, knocked down the bucket in the closing seconds to tie the game at 30.

Second quarter, Facu Campazzo made noise off the bench and knocked down back to back triples to give Denver a 42-36 lead. Lonzo Ball responded with a couple baskets to tie the game at 42 with 4:45 left in the first half. It was neck-and-neck for the rest of the quarter but the Bulls managed to take a 53-52 lead going into halftime.

Chicago went on an 8-0 run to open the third quarter until Will Barton came in for the rescue. He had 23 points on the night and went 9-for-16 from the field. Gordon continued going off in the third on both ends. He was drawing fouls, throwing down dunks, and hitting long range jumpers. But Chicago would not go away. LaVine was in his bag scoring 10 points in the quarter to go along with DeRozan’s six. Derrick Jones Jr. also had three dunks to help the Bulls hang on to an 88-78 lead.

Neither team could get a bucket to start the fourth quarter. It was a scoring drought for over 2 minutes. Dozier broke the ice with two free throws and then a bucket on the following play to get Denver within 6 points. JaMychael Green then hit his first shot of the game to contribute to the Nuggets 6-0 run which forced Chicago to take a timeout. Things got fun from there.

Campazzo scored six of his 16 points in the fourth quarter. He went 5 of 9 from the field and 4 of 5 from downtown. He kept the game within reach for Denver knocking down two huge triples. The Bulls had just a 97-93 lead with 3:56 left in the game. LaVine then hit two straight shots to give Chicago an eight-point lead. Gordon responded with back to back buckets forcing the Bulls to call a timeout.

From there it was the LaVine and DeRozan show. Every time the Nuggets would score, the Bulls would counter and if the Bulls missed, they kept getting offensive rebounds for second chance points. Denver couldn’t contain DeRozan as he went to the line 4 times in the last minute and made all of his free throws. He finished the night with 26 points on 12-for-12 from the free throw line. The Bulls as a whole went 24-for-24 from the charity stripe, and are currently number one in the league in that category. The Nuggets did their best to hang on but the Bulls were just too much to handle.

“I’m proud of our guys for competing and playing the way we did,” Malone said. “We gave ourselves a chance and we are severely undermanned. So I applaud our guys effort. I’m very proud of them.”

The things that stood out to Malone the most were the Bulls 17 offensive rebounds which led to 18 points and the Nuggets 14 turnovers which led to 19 points.

“In a close game down the stretch we got stops but we just couldn’t come up with the rebound and that led to a big three or an extra possession,” Malone said. “They got 93 shots up. We only got 82. But I love how hard we played. It’s frustrating for us to lose three games in a row but I liked the group that was out there representing the city and this organization tonight.”

Another thing that stood out was the amount of Bulls fans at Ball Arena.

“I wasn’t sure if we were at the United Center or Ball Arena,” Malone said. “So yeah the Bulls fans were out in full force tonight and I give the crowds that were here supporting us credit for trying to drown them out and I thought our players played a style of basketball that wanted the crowd support that they got.”

The Nuggets have Saturday off then they are back on the hardwood on Sunday where they face the Suns in Phoenix. The Suns are currently on an 11-game winning streak so the Nuggets will have their hands full.

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