Nuggets-Bulls Preview

Derrick Rose would much rather be playing than watching, but he

can’t deny how well the Chicago Bulls have been playing without

him.

The reigning MVP will miss his seventh consecutive game Monday

night when Chicago hosts the Denver Nuggets, who have yet to win on

their crucial seven-game road trip.

The Bulls (40-10) became the first team to secure a playoff spot

when Luol Deng’s follow-up basket at the buzzer in overtime beat

Toronto 102-101 on Saturday.

Rose is still on the mend with a groin injury, but the Bulls

have gone 12-4 without their star this season. He’s unsure when

he’ll be able to return, though he said he’s been feeling much

better of late.

”It’s definitely hard but, at the same time I’m happy they are

playing great. We’re winning games,” Rose said. ”Of course I want

to be out there. I hate being injured, but right now we’re in a

good groove.”

Chicago also played a significant portion of the game without

Joakim Noah, who was ejected after throwing the ball at an official

in the second quarter.

Carlos Boozer scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while

Deng and C.J. Watson – Rose’s replacement in the starting lineup –

each finished with 23 points.

Coach Tom Thibodeau praised Watson and the rest of the reserves

for their willingness to step up while shorthanded.

”I think having the right attitude and approach is the first

step and the most important step,” Thibodeau said. ”Everybody

stays ready. We feel very good about our bench. When somebody has

faced a new challenge, they’ve responded well.”

With everyone accepting their roles, Thibodeau said there’s no

reason to rush Rose back with 16 games remaining.

”We want to make sure he’s completely healthy,” Thibodeau

said.

Chicago has won five of its last six at home, which may bode

well against a Denver team that has lost the first two games of

their extended road trip.

The Nuggets (26-23) are in a three-way tie for seventh place in

the Western Conference after falling 117-100 in Minnesota on

Sunday, two days after beginning their trip with a 121-102 loss at

Utah.

Denver is allowing an NBA-worst 104.6 points per game on the

road while giving up more than 120 points three times. It is

allowing 116.3 points over its last four overall.

JaVale McGee had 13 points and 11 rebounds Sunday.

”This giving up 115 points a game the last three or four has

got to stop,” point guard Ty Lawson said.

In contrast, the Nuggets are the league’s highest scoring team

averaging 103.7 points, but the Bulls rank second in team defense

giving up a paltry 88.7 per game.

Coach George Karl said he’s confident his team will improve down

the stretch.

”We might not be in the place where we’re going to play well

all the time,” Karl said. ”But if we fight the right way, we’ll

find ways to get wins.

”We can’t put it in cruise control anymore.”

Rose also was injured in the most recent meeting when Denver hit

a shot at the buzzer for a 98-97 win Nov. 26, 2010, despite 33

points from Watson.

The Nuggets have won three of the last four meetings overall,

though the Bulls have won four of the last five in Chicago.