This picture means something. This is important. (Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE)
The phrase 'can't win them all' hasn't really applied to the Bulls this season. Even through myriad injuries to their most important players, this team still usually finds enough to win. It's been remarkable, and perhaps it's still sustainable (though hopefully becoming moot when Rose and Rip return), but it's not absolute. After hanging tight with them the first half, the Bulls were outworked by the Nuggets in a way we've rarely seen all season.
It looked early like the Nuggets were just riding a hot streak of 3-point shooting, but that eventually Bulls would prove to be too big up front. Carlos Boozer started off great in schooling rookie Kenneth Faried, scoring the Bulls first 6 points (he finished with only 14). The Nuggets weathered that early pressure from the Bulls, but then the second wave of bigs came in and dominated defensively, with both Asik and Gibson earning multiple blocks when the Nuggets wings dared to enter the paint. It wasn't until the Nuggets put Javale McGee back in and abandoned the Mozgov-Harrington tandem that they were able to regain their footing and even take a two-point lead at halftime.
Then in the 2nd half, the Nuggets started on a 10-0 run and were never put in real danger again. It turned out to be that, if anything, it was the Bulls were the ones riding a hot 3-point shooting streak. The team shot 65% overall, including including 4-7 from John Lucas III, which I still consider stunning though maybe it shouldn't feel that way. But outside of those 3 pointers, the Bulls offense didn't offer much in terms of reliability, ranging towards the opposite with their 15 turnovers. The Nuggets took advantage, and also had their share of bombs (8-16 from 3 themselves) but also were able to continuously use Ty Lawson and Andre Miller to blow past the Bulls first line of defense in a way we've rarely seen this season.
And as much as one Bulls staple, their defense, was faltering tonight, the rebounding also wasn't there. A truly incredible stat from Mike McGraw: the Bulls had zero offensive rebounds in the second half. This is the best team in the league in that category, and the Nuggets were looking to be much smaller especially with Nene gone. But it was a team effort from Denver (their leader in defensive rebounds was actually Lawson), their kind of athlete even gives the full-strength Bulls trouble, and tonight the Bulls just didn't seem to have it. Most notably Joakim Noah, who had such a nonexistent game you'd think it was still January.
Coach Thibodeau even tried to use Jimmy Butler to inject some energy, but neither that nor a mini (is there any other kind?) John Lucas barrage got them much closer, as the Nuggets took the open looks the Bulls gave them and connected.
So it turned out to be a rare misstep for the team that always wins the next game. Of course, there were going to be nights like this, but it still seems unexpected. Big-picture issues still loom, most obvious tonight being Luol Deng's one-armed 38 minutes, but there are 2 winnable games this week to at least distract us from that. That's of course keeping the mindset that pretty much every game is winnable for this team, no matter what.