DENVER — The Denver Nuggets are hurting from another poor road performance, and they hope the elixir is playing host Thursday to the team with the NBA’s worst record, the Chicago Bulls.
The Nuggets, so good at home this season, have been abysmal on the road. Their last two games away from Pepsi Center were blowout losses in Houston on Nov. 22 — a game in which they trailed by as many as 48 points — and in Utah on Tuesday, a 106-77 defeat.
Denver (11-9) led the Jazz 49-48 at halftime and then scored just 28 points in the final 24 minutes. It prompted forward Mason Plumlee to call out his team for its lack of a strong leader.
“It’s going to take some leadership, hold people accountable,” Plumlee said after the game in Utah. “Somebody has got to step forward and kind of be a voice and get on people, and it can’t just be from the staff. We have to take ownership internally and deal with it.”
They can start against the Bulls. Chicago (3-16) is riding a six-game losing streak after falling 104-99 to the visiting Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.
The Bulls, who have lost 11 of their last 12, will face an angry Denver team that is 8-2 at home. While the Nuggets are dealing with the issue of road inefficiency and the absence of forward Paul Millsap for a few months, Chicago has drama of its own. Forward Nikola Mirotic addressed the media Wednesday for the first time since he sustained multiple facial fractures when teammate Bobby Portis punched him during a brawl in practice on Oct. 17.
Portis was suspended by the team for eight games, and Mirotic has yet to play this season. In a sign that tensions might be thawing between the two, Mirotic gave Portis a fist bump when Portis came to the bench during the Tuesday game.
A day later, Mirotic said he has forgiven Portis.
“We are teammates,” Mirotic said after practice Wednesday. “We are on the same team. Obviously we are fighting for this team. We both are going to do what we need to do to make it work. Yeah, I did accept his apology.”
Mirotic didn’t directly answer when he was asked if he had sat down with Portis, and his response when asked if Portis knows he accepts his apology was, “I guess he will know now.”
The precarious situation between teammates is just one of the issues for Chicago. The Bulls are headed for one of their worst seasons in franchise history. They are dealing with injuries beyond Mirotic: Zach LaVine, David Nwaba and Cameron Payne are also out, forcing coach Fred Hoiberg to use an inexperienced lineup.
“We’re young,” guard Kris Dunn told the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday night. “We have to stick together.”
That’s what the Nuggets must do. They are young, too, but their youth is more experienced, and the expectation is to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. The struggles in going 3-7 on the road so far will be amplified in December, when Denver plays only five of 15 games at home.
The daunting schedule is made tougher by Millsap’s absence. He had surgery on Sunday to repair ligament damage in his left wrist, and he will miss at least three months. Forward Wilson Chandler is also hurting. He has missed two of the past four games with an ailing back that will keep him out of the Thursday contest.
The Nuggets feel their second-half performance Tuesday was unacceptable even with those injuries.
“We were completely outplayed,” coach Michael Malone said after the loss to Utah. “Just an awful, embarrassing night for the Denver Nuggets.”