November 25, 2014

Coach Fred Hoiberg is hopeful his inconsistent Chicago Bulls have finally found something to build on, though that will be difficult if two of his biggest stars are held out.

With Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol questionable Friday night, the Bulls seek their first back-to-back wins in a month and their second road victory over the Denver Nuggets in 16 years.

Butler, an All-Star for the second straight season, missed his first game Wednesday due to left knee soreness. The shooting guard, averaging a team-high 22.4 points, said he was feeling better Thursday and will test his knee during the morning shootaround.

"I have to think big picture," Butler told the team's official website. "Got to do what's right for your body. I have to be smart; just being cautious. I think I'll be fine."

Otherwise, the Bulls may need another big game from E'Twaun Moore after he stepped up with a career-high 24 points in Wednesday's 107-102 win at Sacramento. The journeyman has averaged 12.5 points since moving into the starting lineup for the first four on this seven-game trip.

Derrick Rose contributed 21 points and nine assists but also committed seven turnovers as Chicago (27-21) snapped a two-game losing streak to move past a 4-9 stretch.

After posting a 98.7 offensive rating over their previous nine games, the Bulls played more at the pace Hoiberg has been longing for with 104 possessions and a 102.6 rating Wednesday. They also made 11 for 21 from 3-point range and finished with 26 assists.

"The ball was swinging side to side, we were getting it in the right guys' hands, shifted the defense and good things happened and hopefully we'll carry this over," Hoiberg said.

Gasol, though, suffered a left hand sprain Wednesday but was able to finish the contest with 16 points and 13 rebounds. It would be a particularly big loss since he's averaged 23.7 points in his last six meetings with Denver dating to his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Chicago, already missing Mike Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah, has won the past two games against the Nuggets but has dropped the last eight road matchups. The club has lost 14 of its past 15 trips to Denver, with its only victory coming in February 2006.

The Nuggets (19-31) have allowed an average of 89 points in their last two games after giving up 111.4 in their previous eight. However, they shot just 37.1 percent in an 85-81 loss at Utah on Wednesday after averaging 108.9 points on 46.3 percent shooting over their prior nine.

"We have a hard time when we're forced to play (slow)," coach Mike Malone said. "That's just the reality."

Danilo Gallinari had 24 points and is averaging 22.9 over his past 17 games. Nikola Jokic hopes to recover after finishing with eight on 3-of-9 shooting while dealing with a strained shoulder. He averaged 19.3 and 11.7 rebounds in his prior three games.

The Nuggets were held to 38.7 percent shooting and outrebounded 62-49 in a 99-90 loss at Chicago on Dec. 2. Gasol led the Bulls with a season-high 26 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks, though Butler and Rose totaled 31 points on 8-of-33 shooting.

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