The Denver Nuggets have advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once in the past 23 years.
But the Mile High City has been the Bulls’ least-favorite destination. Since the championship era ended in 1998, the Bulls had posted a 1-16 record in Denver, with a 10-game losing streak, heading into Thursday’s contest at the Pepsi Center.
Bulls vs. Sacramento Kings at the United Center, 7 p.m. Friday
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: The Kings (6-15) are relying on a young roster but have pulled off some impressive wins, including at Golden State 110-106 on Monday. The Warriors were without Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, but they also were missing two starters when they beat the Bulls by 49 points on Nov. 24. Veteran PF Zach Randolph is Sacramento’s top scorer at 12.9 ppg, followed by second-year SG Buddy Hield with 12.1 ppg. Rookie PG De’Aaron Fox, the No. 5 pick in the draft, is averaging 10.2 points and 4.4 assists. The Kings and Bulls are the bottom two teams in the league in scoring. Sacramento has lost seven straight at the United Center since the epic 35-point comeback in the 2009-10 season.
Next: Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center, 7 p.m. Monday
— Mike McGraw
Make it 1-17.
Will Barton’s driving lay-in with 3.2 seconds left gave Denver a 111-110 victory. Kris Dunn had scored with 9.6 seconds on the clock to give the Bulls a 1-point lead. Denzel Valentine missed a 30-footer at the buzzer,
Robin Lopez and rookie Lauri Markkanen led the Bulls with 20 points each, while Dunn scored 19. The Bulls led by 3 points late, but Barton drew a pair of fouls on Justin Holiday and hit 4 of 5 free throws to put the Nuggets up by 1 with 19 seconds left.
The Bulls got off to a great start in this game, hitting 10 of their first 13 shots and taking a 26-8 lead in the first quarter. The early success was a product of the Bulls moving the ball well and getting the ball inside as opposed to settling for 3-point baskets.
By halftime, the Bulls led 68-62 and were shooting 65.9 percent from the field. Even though Nuggets leading scorer Nikola Jokic left the game late in the first half with an apparent sprained ankle, Denver rallied in the third quarter. The Nuggets took their first lead since 2-0 when Kenneth Faried’s tip-in made it 78-77 with 4:52 left in the third.
Earlier in the day at the Bulls’ shootaround, Bobby Portis spoke to reporters. On Wednesday in Chicago, Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic made his first public comments since the Oct. 17 practice altercation that left Mirotic with facial fractures and Portis suspended by the team for eight games.
Portis and Mirotic have been interacting this week at practice and during Tuesday’s home game, the first Mirotic has attended since the altercation. But Portis acknowledged the two have not had any meaningful conversations.
“No, not anything directly,” Portis said in Denver. “I’m just trying to play ball, like I said from the beginning. Just go out here and try to compete and do what I love to do and it’s been fun up to this point for me.”
Mirotic said he accepted Portis’ apology, albeit indirectly, and vowed to be professional when dealing with teammates.
“Why couldn’t I (handle sharing a locker room with Mirotic)?” Portis said. “We’re teammates, just trying to help this team win as much as possible.
“Some teammates don’t gel off the court, but on the court they have to make ends meet for the team needs. If that’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Mirotic and Zach LaVine officially were assigned to the Windy City Bulls on Thursday. It’s unlikely they will play in any G-League games. The plan was to get a couple of good practices in with Windy City while the Bulls have a busy week of games. Guard David Nwaba, out since Nov. 4 with a sprained right ankle, made the trip to Denver but did not play.
Portis produced 20-point, 10-rebound nights in the first two games after his suspension. He has tailed off since then but is still well ahead of his production during the last two season. Heading into Thursday, Portis was averaging 12.5 points and 7.2 rebounds.
“I feel like my summer’s work, me putting the work in, putting the time and effort in to be a good basketball player helped me,” Portis said. “This is just another steppingstone in my career, me having to fight through some adversity to try to be a good player.”
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.