Bull Market: Nuggets face Chicago seeking 8th straight win
It was an 18-game stretch offering the chance to build the momentum of a runaway 18-wheel semi-truck.
Three road games, 15 home games – and only one back-to-back set.
With one game remaining, the Denver Nuggets have already exceeded expectations during their 38-day window.
Riding a season-best seven-game winning streak, Denver will wrap up its six-game homestand Thursday night against the Chicago Bulls. The Nuggets (31-18) are 14-3 since Jan. 1, rising from seventh in the West to overtake Memphis for fourth.
“We feel like we can play better, actually,” Denver forward Corey Brewer said. “We know we’ve been winning, but we’ve been winning a lot of close games in the fourth quarter. We know we can get better.”
Though Tuesday night’s victory against Milwaukee came down to the final minute, six of Denver’s wins since Jan. 1 have been by double figures. The Nuggets are averaging 108.5 points during that stretch.
Coach George Karl has been happy with the offensive output, but he believes his team can cause real problems if it continues to improve defensively.
“I thought (the last two games) we won with our defense,” Karl said. “We have skills that can make us a very good defensive team. That’s where the challenge is going to be – how we can keep a defensive intensity and focus.”
The Nuggets are forcing 18.1 turnovers in 2013 and allowing 100.8 points. In rallying to beat the Bucks, they scored 29 points off 17 turnovers.
“When we create any type of offense with our defense, we score,” Karl said. “Everybody wants to make a great offensive play, but I think it’s actually more thrilling and exciting to a team to make a great defensive play.”
Denver’s next opponent is well versed in defensive plays. The Bulls are third in the NBA in points allowed (91.0 per game) and second in defensive field-goal percentage (.428).
The numbers suggest a clash of styles.
“We’ve got to move the ball and we’ve got to run,” Brewer said. “It’s all about running, especially when you play a team like the Bulls, who play really good five-on-five defense. You want to get the pace going.”
The Nuggets faced a similar test last week against the Indiana Pacers, one of only two teams allowing less than 90 points. Denver scored 102 points in a hard-fought victory over the Pacers, but Karl knows that it will take another focused effort against Chicago.
“Right now, our team is kind of getting into a rhythm, being serious about the challenge we have,” he said. “We could have lost a couple (home games) but we’ve had an urgency in the fourth quarter to win those games. I think you’re seeing a little bit of maturity in our basketball team.
“I’ve always liked this team and we are progressing in a good way. We’ve got a tough game against Chicago. I don’t think we can be cool or cocky. I don’t think that’s going to help us win anything.”
BULLS AT NUGGETS
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. MT
WHERE: Pepsi Center, Denver
TV; RADIO: TNT; 104.3 FM, AM-950
F Luol Deng
F Carlos Boozer
C Taj Gibson
G Richard Hamilton
G Nate Robinson
DENVER: No injuries to report.
CHICAGO: Carlos Boozer (hamstring) and Joakim Noah (foot) are day-to-day; Kirk Hinrich (elbow) is not with the team; Derrick Rose (knee) is out.
The Nuggets have won five straight and 11 of the last 12 against the Bulls at Pepsi Center, dating back to 1999-2000 … The Nuggets have posted a record of 6-6 against the Bulls at the United Center since the 2000-01 season … Denver swept the season series with Chicago 2-0 in 2009-10, marking the first series win for the Nuggets over the Bulls since 2003-04 (2-0) … The 2010-11 season marked the sixth time in the last eight years that the season series ended in a split (1-1) … The Bulls have not won a season series against the Nuggets since the 1997-98 season (2-0).