Some games have a rhythm that sways back and forth rather extremely, and they don’t allow one team or the other to ever really dominate or establish control of the game. This felt like the case between the Bulls and the Nuggets in Denver last night through at least the first half. Somehow, though, the Bulls entered the second half absolutely on fire and looked to make the game theirs. But, as games like last night’s tend to, momentum swung back in Denver’s favor in the fourth quarter and the Nuggets ultimately took advantage of the Bulls’ lackluster play in the waning minutes to seize back the victory after it looked as though Chicago would walk away with this one pretty easily. With the 115-110 loss, the Bulls move to 27-22 and slowly creep toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff grouping. As it stands now, they would be the sixth seed, but only by a slim margin over the Pistons and Pacers. With that said, a few notes on one of the more frustrating losses of what is proving to be a very weird season:
- No Pau. After calling out his teammates and motivating them to a win over the Kings earlier this week, Pau Gasol had to sit out last night because of a left hand injury, but fear not, Mike Dunleavy is making his glorious return tonight against the Timberwolves. Dunleavy has not played at all this season, so this will be a breath of fresh air. Cameron Bairstow got the start in his place, but this aspect of the game became more about Bobby Portis, ultimately.
- Jimmy Butler left the game with a knee injury. It was unclear during the game just how bad it was, as he was able to shoot his free throws before being wheeled off for the night. Trainers worked on him for a few minutes on the sideline, but it became clear after a while that he was not going to be in condition to return. Afterward, Fred Hoiberg said that he would have it checked today, but considering that Butler missed his first game of the season on Wednesday night because of this knee, his status is likely to be uncertain for a while.
- Missing some guns. Really, with both Pau and Nikola Mirotic out for this game, the Bulls were not firing with their strongest weapons at the posts. When you have to start the game with Bairstow and give any minutes whatsoever to Cristiano Felicio, maybe the bar should be kept pretty low. Felicio has barely spent a quarter’s worth of minutes on the floor all season and has been in as many games in the D-league as he has on the court for the Bulls. This really is no excuse, however, as the Bulls were able to outscore the Nuggets by 20 points in the second and third quarters.
- It was an abominable fourth quarter where they surrendered a whopping 42 to Denver that did them in. Something about shooting 9/24 in that quarter and giving up practically a half’s worth of points in one quarter just doesn’t translate to wins very often.
- I can’t not mention that Derrick Rose scored 30 last night. It’s ultimately pretty meaningless in a loss like this, but it’s those flashes of brilliance that seem to draw me in. Even on two legs that have been decimated by injury, every so often he can still drive to the hoop and make a layup that flirts with defying the laws of physics and gravity. It’s the kind of shot that makes someone a fan, if they didn’t know any better. Rose also grabbed nine rebounds and had eight assists, so in fairness, he did just about all that he could to bring this win home. Even in the face of losing Butler for the night, Rose showed that he can still put this team on his shoulders, if just for a little while.
- Danilo Gallinari went 18/18 from the free throw line. Denver’s forward might look just a little bit like he was born in the wrong decade and missed his calling to play the villain in every bad 1980s movie, but he roasted the Bulls for 33 points last night. Only Emmanuel Mudiay also had double digit free throw attempts for the Nuggets, but he didn’t come close to shooting as well from the line as Gallinari did.
- What about the coaching? I have resisted the urge to be really critical of Hoiberg in his first year, but in a game like this one, I can’t help but wonder just for a bit about his role in pushing his team to maintain what was a very winnable game. It was in their hands. Some of it might be conditioning, some might be lack of adjustments as things go south, and some could just have been the shorthandedness of the roster last night. That can’t always be helped.
- Coming up: It’s back to back nights on the road for the Bulls from here, as they will be in Minnesota against the Timberwolves, who should, should serve up a nice opportunity to recuperate with a win.