Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has an eye for the small details and he thought there was a bad omen Monday night, even while his team got off to a quick 8-0 lead against Denver.
"It wasn't our type of game," Thibodeau said after the contest. "It was up and down, free and easy. I thought we let our guard down, and you can't do that."
This was clearly a clash of styles coming in. The Nuggets are the league's highest-scoring team, averaging 103.6 points. The Bulls rank second in points allowed, behind Philadelphia, at 88.7 points per game.
Denver's brand of basketball definitely won out at the United Center. The Bulls were never able to slow down the Nuggets and suffered their worst loss of the season 108-91.
"I think we got into their game, which is transition; windshield wiper, going back and forth, back and forth," guard John Lucas said. "And that's not us. Defensively, we couldn't get stops tonight."
The loss dropped to Bulls to 40-11. Miami lost at Indiana on Monday, so the Bulls missed a chance to move 3 games ahead in the loss column for first place in the Eastern Conference.
The stat sheet featured some real oddities. The Bulls had one of their best 3-point shooting nights of the season, knocking down 13 of 20 attempts. Lucas, Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson combined to knock down 11 of 15 shots form long range.
But for the second game in a row, the Bulls were dominated on the boards. Denver led in rebounds 45-32, while the Bulls didn't grab a single offensive carom in the second half.
"We just laid an egg," Joakim Noah said. "We didn't play good basketball tonight. There are really no excuses."
Denver (27-23) started the night in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference after losing badly at Minnesota on Sunday. The Nuggets had reason to increase their effort, and it paid off.
"The desperate team definitely has an advantage," Noah added. "But just because we're the No. 1 team in the NBA doesn't mean we don't play desperate. I feel like the strength of this team is we play with that desperate edge. We didn't play our game tonight."
The Bulls seemed to be in decent shape at halftime, trailing 54-52. Denver scored the first 10 points of the third quarter, though, and that was pretty much the game. Despite throwing in so many 3-point baskets, the Bulls never got enough stops to cut into the lead.
"That was our best defensive quarter in a long time," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "Our energy to start the third has not been good generally. Tonight we accepted that criticism and played very well. We caught Chicago in a flat mode."
Watson led the Bulls with 17 points, while Lucas, Korver and Carlos Boozer all scored 14.
The Bulls need to win Wednesday at Atlanta, most likely without Derrick Rose again, or say goodbye to their streak of 83 games without losing two in a row.
Rose missed his seventh straight game with a groin strain.
"We count on the guys that are here," Thibodeau said. "We didn't play the way we should have. Derrick had nothing to do with that."