With an already stout defense playing even better and their offense operating more efficiently, the Chicago Bulls have reeled off four straight victories.
In order to extend that streak, though, they’ll have to snap a five-game series skid against the visiting Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Chicago (28-25) pulled to within a half-game of Toronto for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 94-92 road victory over the Raptors on Wednesday. Jimmy Butler scored 16 points and blocked DeMar DeRozan’s potential go-ahead basket with two seconds left to preserve the win.
"Jimmy had a great play basically to save the game for us," said Carlos Boozer, who scored a team-high 20. "We needed one stop and Jimmy got it for us."
The Bulls are shooting 48.2 percent during their winning streak after previously hitting 42.2 percent of their shots. They were already limiting teams to 93.0 points per game, but that number has dropped to 84.8 over the last four.
D.J. Augustin, who was waived by the Raptors in December before being picked up by Chicago, was 4 of 5 from 3-point range and is 14 for 25 over his last six games. He’s shooting 43.4 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 13.8 points over 33 contests for the Bulls after averaging 2.1 points in 10 games for Toronto.
All-Star center Joakim Noah had a career-high 13 assists, marking his third game of at least 11 over the last five.
A sixth straight win by Denver (25-28) over Chicago would mark the longest streak by either team in series history. The Nuggets claimed a 97-87 home victory on Nov. 21, holding the Bulls to 38.8 percent shooting.
Denver ended its own five-game skid Thursday with a 101-90 win at league-worst Milwaukee. The Nuggets, led by Kenneth Faried’s 26 points, shot 51.3 percent after shooting 39.4 during the slide.
Faried had 21 points and 10 rebounds in Tuesday’s 112-107 overtime loss to Phoenix and scored 28 points earlier in the month against the Clippers. He had just two 20-point performances over his first 43 games.
"It’s good to feel what it’s like to get a ‘W’ again," coach Brian Shaw said. "It’s been a while for us."
Shaw and company perhaps benefited from no longer having to deal with disgruntled point guard Andre Miller, who was sent to Washington on Thursday in exchange for forward Jan Vesely. Miller hadn’t played since being involved in a heated verbal altercation with Shaw in the final moments of a loss to Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, even despite injuries to Ty Lawson – who missed his fourth straight game Thursday – and Nate Robinson.
"You know, nobody wanted to have the situation come down to what it came to, so we wish Andre the best in Washington. It gives him a chance to do what he loves to do and get out there and play basketball, so it’s a better situation for him," Shaw said.
Denver also acquired point guard Aaron Brooks from Houston in exchange for swingman Jordan Hamilton. Brooks, who could be in line to start if Lawson remains sidelined, was averaging 7.0 points over 16.7 minutes per game, but he’s proven effective previously in a bigger role. He averaged 19.6 points over 35.6 minutes in starting all 82 games for the Rockets in 2009-10.