Down a man in Denver, depth suddenly became a big issue for the Bulls late Thursday night.
Then right on cue, the guy who practically begged the Bulls to keep him around for scoring off the bench let it rip. Ex-Bull Nate Robinson drained a pair of 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter, igniting a 13-0 run and pushing the Nuggets to a 97-87 victory at the Pepsi Center.
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The Bulls were short-handed because Jimmy Butler stayed home from the circus trip to rest a turf toe injury. He's expected to miss the entire six-game trek.
The injury sent Mike Dunleavy into the starting lineup and removed a scoring threat from the bench.
Trailing 50-48 at halftime, the Bulls tied the score on a Derrick Rose drive, then fell behind 58-51 after Randy Foye knocked down a pair of 3-point baskets. The visitors ended up scoring just 14 points in the third quarter.
Still, they faced a manageable deficit of 70-62 heading into the fourth, before Robinson's 3-pointers stretched the lead to 14 points. A technical foul on Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau added another point and Jordan Hamilton tacked on a pair of 3-pointers to make it 83-62.
The Bulls (6-4) brought the deficit down to 10, but never seriously threatened. With another game in Portland on Friday, Thibodeau pulled Rose (19 points) for the final seven minutes.
With 1:16 left, Taj Gibson was ejected for picking up his second technical foul of the night. It looked like Gibson complained about the referee not throwing him the ball right away as the Bulls were about to inbound it.
Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer added 15 points each for the Bulls. Luol Deng hit 3 of 18 shots. Hamilton led Denver with 17 points. Robinson finished with 11 points, hitting 3-of-13 shots.
Before the game, Thibodeau talked about the decision to start Dunleavy instead of Kirk Hinrich, the better defender of the two.
"I just thought it through," Thibodeau said, according to espn.com. "I like both guys. I don't want to disrupt the second unit. So it allows us to get back to our (usual) second unit."
The defense got off to a slow start, with Denver shooting 61.1 percent from the field in the first quarter.
The Bulls have played a relatively light schedule so far this season, with just one set of back-to-back games. In contrast, the circus trip opener started a stretch of four games in five nights. On Friday, the Bulls will visit Portland, which is off to a surprising 10-2 start with eight straight victories. The flurry continues with games against the Clippers and Utah.
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