Losing streaks continue for Bulls in Denver

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen, left, pulls in a loose ball as Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Denver.

    Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen, left, pulls in a loose ball as Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Denver. Associated Press

 
 

The Bulls got some good news about Wendell Carter Jr.'s injured thumb.

Just about everything else in Denver on Thursday was bad news, though, as the Bulls completed a winless road trip by losing to the Nuggets 135-105 at the Pepsi Center.

The Bulls (10-35) extended their losing streak to nine games and dropped their 12th straight in Denver, where they haven't won since Ben Gordon led them to victory in 2006.

Lauri Markkanen got his shot going in this game, scoring 20 of his 27 points in the first half, and the Bulls were within 2 points midway through the second quarter.

But a familiar pattern ensued. The Bulls missed shots they could have made, the defense slipped on the other end, and before they knew it Denver (30-14) had blown the doors off this game. The Nuggets were coming off a blowout loss to Golden State on Tuesday, which included an NBA record 51 points by the Warriors in the first quarter.

The Bulls scored 47 points in the first half Thursday and trailed by 14. The Nuggets quickly built the lead to 30 points in the third quarter as Jamal Murray scored 20 of his 25 points. Denver hit 20 of 40 shots from 3-point range and, after the game, Boylen admitted the game plan of going under screens backfired, after working well against Utah and the Lakers.

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"Part of our game plan was to get under, make them make shots off the dribble, and they made some of them," Boylen said. "Murray got it going. He looked like Steph Curry out there tonight making 25-footers off the bounce. You've got to give them credit. Those were big shots."

Bobby Portis started at center as Carter missed a start for the first time this season. Carter fell and injured his left thumb early in Tuesday's loss to the Lakers, but finished the game. The Bulls originally feared a torn ligament, which would require surgery, but an MRI exam showed nothing more than a sprain.

"I wouldn't say excited, but definitely a relief," Carter told reporters at Thursday's shootaround, according to bulls.com. "It went from six-to-eight weeks (if surgery was required) to now day-to-day, so that's definitely a relief.

"I feel like (I'll play) the next game. I'm looking at Saturday, for sure. Just get in some really good treatment these next couple days and I should be fine."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With Portis starting, Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker were both part of the second unit. It appears Parker is back in the rotation to stay, while Lopez returned after not playing against the Lakers. Lopez scored 17 points and Parker 15 against the Nuggets.

The Bulls continued to look out of sorts. Besides not making shots, the starting lineup seems to have little chemistry. There was a belief things would get better once Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine were all healthy, but the improvement hasn't happened. The Bulls went 3-2 while LaVine was out with an ankle injury late in December.

LaVine hit 4 of 15 shots for 8 points Thursday, while Dunn was 3 of 8 for 6 points and Portis 3 of 12 for 8 points.

"The things I talk to Zach about is you've got to match force with force," Boylen said. "They're crawling into you. You've got to change speeds, get open, fight for your catches. He's got to do that more consistently."

This season isn't about winning, that's been clear since training camp. But the Bulls should be showing some promise and there was none on this five-game road trip.

"We're learning about them," Boylen said. "They're learning what they need to do better. That's all part of this season, a season of discovering what we have and what they can do and what they need to work on."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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