Rocky in Boulder

It’s going to be more difficult to get that preseason championship now.

The Bulls, though again playing without Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson and then resting Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah in the second half, Thursday were outplayed, outhustled and out run by the Denver Nuggets in a 112-94 loss.

It wasn’t close after a 26-3 Nuggets second quarter run that left the Bulls trailing by more than 20 points for most of the remainder of the game played in Boulder, CO.

The Bulls were led by Nikola Mirotic with 18 points, Doug McDermott with 15 and rookie Bobby Portis with 10 points and 16 rebounds, though with 10 of those rebounds in a detritus-time fourth quarter.

“We had one little stretch (early) where good things were happening,” said coach Fred Hoiberg. “That’s when we had good pace flowing into it. It just wasn’t a very long stretch. When things weren’t going well, they’d hit a shot and we’d come back and try to get it back without making a pass or taking a tough, contested shot. That’s not what this is about. It’s about working the ball around, making quick decisions and getting good looks. Whether they go in or not, you want to get an uncontested shot. I think we took too many contested ones tonight.”

The Bulls shot just 34 percent while allowing the Nuggets to shoot 47 percent. Unlike the Bulls preseason win at home Tuesday, this game for the Bulls was marked by more individual play, 22 turnovers that the Nuggets turned into 28 points and a more stagnant game. But Butler and Noah, the latter after a hard fall in the first half, sat out the second half in Hoiberg’s plan to ease the team through the early part of preseason.

The Bulls, 1-1, play Saturday against Minnesota in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We take (out of the game) that we don’t guard anyone, including me,” said Butler, who had a rocky effort with six points in 19 minutes and two of 10 shooting. “We worry too much about offense, including me. Everyone is adjusting to the new offense, everyone is learning their role. We started off slow. As the starters we need to set the pace. I don’t think we were playing at a very high level to start the game. It went that way the rest of the game. We kept shooting the ball, trying to outscore the opponents. Obviously that didn’t work. We need to count on our defense to win the game.”

Well, not quite yet as no team is going to have a defensive system of play using a dozen players, most of them not regulars.

There were positives:

McDermott is settling in. He made two of four threes and mostly ran himself into his points. He’s going to be crucial the way this Bulls team is being put together with neither Rose or Butler premier three point shooters.

Mirotic showed a knack for scoring, though he does take a lot of shots. But he’s been mostly a positive in these first two games. He pumped faked less, obviously hearing that from Hoiberg, and he was the main scorer when the Bulls took a 21-20 lead after the first quarter and again went to the boards aggressively. Butler was concentrating on assists with the highlight play of the first quarter a Butler drive splitting the defense and behind the back pass to Mirotic for a dunk. But Butler was off the mark with basically all his perimeter shots.

E’Twaun Moore was impressive even if he was just three of 10 shooting. He made a three and ran the team well with the starters. He’s not particularly athletic, which hurts him on defense. That will be something to watch as Moore, Mirotic and McDermott aren’t the quickest defenders. But Moore took advantage of rookie Emmanuel Mudiay for a postup and moved the ball nicely on the break after turnovers. He’s a heady player.

Though most of Portis’ statistics came late in a game pretty much decided in the second quarter, it was a credit to Portis that he continued to hustle and work and helped get a 28-point fourth quarter deficit down to 15, resulting in a late Nuggets timeout. It’s easy to quit in that sort of game, but he never did.

Though it’s uncertain the fate of free agent Jordan Crawford, the Bulls may want to take a closer look at him. He had 10 points and six rebounds playing just the fourth quarter. He’s known as a one dimensional scorer, but he gets the ball in the basket and with a faster game he could prove a worthwhile addition in small doses.

Cameron Bairstow was quietly impressive with seven points and seven rebounds. Also not a great athlete, he nonetheless worked hard once again and was in the middle of the pack rebounding. He has a nice touch from the free throw line and isn’t hesitant to shoot as he was last season.

Tony Snell on the other hand didn’t make much impact once again despite playing 26 minutes. He shot two of 10 and again didn’t seem to find where he can fit and was among those shooting those quick shots.

Hoiberg started the same group of Snell, Moore, Butler, Mirotic and Noah. Hoiberg had said he planned to start McDermott for Snell, but changed that and said he liked McDermott coming off the bench. It suggests Hoiberg may be more comfortable that way and have Dunleavy return to his starter position when he returns from his back surgery. McDermott looked more comfortable in any case.

Noah took a tough fall early that looked frightening when it occurred. He stayed in the game, but Hoiberg was taking no chances and sat him the second half. Noah called it a contusion with “some swelling.”

“We talked to them (Butler and Noah) before the game. We were going to rest Jimmy in the second half,” said Hoiberg. “We were going to play him quite a few minutes in the first, which we did and not play him in the second. Same thing with Jo. In the second half, we came out and decided to get Bobby a lot of minutes out there. We tried to get Doug at the four a little bit and play a little smaller, especially the way Jo went down in that first half. We just wanted to make sure about that.”

There wasn’t much point, anyway, the way the Nuggets with a 16-0 second quarter run took a 22-point lead midway through the second quarter and pretty much kept that the rest of the game. So maybe they will need Gasol, Rose and some others.

“We have to play a lot harder,” said Noah. “I am disappointed with the way we played tonight. We got out hustled in every area. We are learning a new system and a new philosophy. We have to get better.”