December 31, 2014

Just over a month into the season, the Chicago Bulls' offense still hasn't taken off in Fred Hoiberg's up-tempo system.

They're still well ahead of the Denver Nuggets.

Coming off a scrappy win over one of the league's best teams, the Bulls look to send the scuffling Nuggets to an eighth straight loss Wednesday night at the United Center.

Chicago (10-5) has the Eastern Conference's third-best record but the success hasn't been a product of Hoiberg's touted fast-paced offense. The Bulls are averaging 98.9 points, 1.9 less than last season when they ranked 15th under the defensive-oriented Tom Thibodeau.

They channeled their old defensive mindset late Monday against San Antonio, getting blocks from Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose in the final 66 seconds to hang on for a 92-89 win.

''It was one of those nights where everybody that stepped out on the floor not only contributed but contributed in a big way,'' Hoiberg said.

The contributions were much greater on the defensive end, however, as the offense again failed to find any rhythm. The Bulls didn't make a field goal in the final 6:31, missing four attempts and committing three turnovers, and leading scorer Jimmy Butler finished with as many field goals (five) as turnovers.

Chicago has scored 94 or fewer in each of its last four games while shooting 38.9 percent.

In the last two, Butler has totaled 30 points and nine turnovers while Rose has 21 points on 27.3 percent shooting. Gasol is shooting 30.6 percent in the last three.

The Nuggets (6-12) have been an even bigger mess offensively, recording 80, 81 and 74 points in the last three games.

They had their lowest point total of the season in Monday's 92-74 loss to Milwaukee, turning the ball over a season-high 24 turnovers while getting outscored 52-36 in the paint.

''We've got to find a way to wake up and win some games because we definitely cannot keep doing what we're doing and playing the way we play,'' said leading scorer Danilo Gallinari, who is shooting 28.6 percent during the losing streak. ''We've got to want to win the game. We've got to put more effort.''

Stepping up in the second half would go a long way to help Denver avoid its first eight-game skid since Dec. 17, 2013-Jan. 1, 2014.

The Nuggets were down by two to the Bucks at halftime before being outscored 46-30 after the break. During its losing streak, Denver is averaging 51.7 points and 40.4 percent 3-point shooting in the first half and 39.6 points and 23.3 percent shooting on 3s in the second.

''We're one of the poorer shooting teams in the NBA, one of the poorer finishing teams in the NBA,'' coach Michael Malone said.

The Nuggets are also one of the worst road teams in the league. They were 2-6 away from Denver in November, with their wins coming against New Orleans and the Los Angeles Lakers - the only teams they're ahead of in the West.

They've lost two straight in Chicago and have one win in their last 13 games at East arenas.

Denver split last season's two games with the Bulls, with Butler totaling 58 points and 17 rebounds.

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