Heading into Monday's action, Denver was in a virtual tie with Memphis for the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference and just a game behind the third-place Los Angeles Clippers.
The Nuggets didn't have an all-star this season and before playing at the United Center on Monday, coach George Karl was asked if Denver can get to the Finals without a traditional go-to superstar.
"Definitively, yes," Karl answered. "I'm tired of the dang question. First of all, 50 percent of all games are won on the defensive end. I'd say 70 percent are won with your defense."
As far as late-game scorers, Karl figures he can split the duties between point guard Ty Lawson, 6-foot-10 shooter Danilo Gallinari and former Sixers all-star Andre Iguodala.
"Ty has gotten very good there, Galo has been very good there," Karl said. "Have they gotten to the echelon of a Kobe (Bryant) or a LeBron (James)? I remember you all saying LeBron wasn't a closer, maybe two years ago. I'll tell you what, I'll take LeBron as my closer.
"It's about making basketball plays. It's not about a guy making shots. It's about stops, possessions and efficiency. I think versatility is better than one guy."
Injury news stays same:
The Bulls were hoping to get one of their injured players back Monday, but it didn't happen.
Taj Gibson seems to be closest to returning; he has been out 10 games with a sprained left knee. Kirk Hinrich, who missed his seventh game with a sore right foot, is more uncertain.
"Kirk didn't do much (at shootaround)," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Taj did a lot, so we'll see. They're moving along; they're getting better. It was encouraging to see (Gibson) do the things he did today, but we want to make sure he's ready."
Richard Hamilton, meanwhile, remains out indefinitely with a sore lower back. He was spotted at the arena after skipping the California road trip.
"He's doing a little bit more, but he's still not practicing yet," Thibodeau said of Hamilton. "There's an unknown. It's a back, so those things are tricky. We just have to wait to see."
Of course, there was nothing definitive on Derrick Rose's return. He warmed up before Monday's game wearing bright green shoes but sat out the St. Patrick's Day festivities.
Rose could realistically be back Thursday against Portland or not until next season.
Strength in numbers:
Nuggets coach George Karl offered an optimistic prediction on the Bulls' short-term future as they await the return of several injured players.
"Coach (Tom) Thibodeau has done an incredible job of figuring out how to win, and they'll be better because of that," Karl said. "When they get healthy, they're going to be better because of the experience; they're going to be stronger mentally because of the experience. They're going to have players confident to play no matter what happens."
Luol Deng was hit with his third technical foul of the season in the third quarter Monday night. … Denver coach George Karl, when asked if Andre Iguodala is the best defender he has coached: "I'll save the trash-talking whupping that I'd would take if I said A.I. was better than Gary (Payton), so I'd say it's tied."