High-flying Nuggets end Bulls' four-game winning streak

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High-flying Nuggets end Bulls' four-game winning streak

The short-handed Bulls finally met their match Monday night, as the deep, dangerous and talented Nuggets came into the United Center and absolutely ran them out of the United Center with a second-half blitz that led to a 108-91 victory.

The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the team with the NBAs best record, a squad that had played with fire in recent outings and didnt come up with the necessary energy to subdue one of the leagues top transition teams.

Three consecutive Carlos Boozer (14 points, seven rebounds) jumpers to begin the contest, followed by a Ronnie Brewer steal and transition dunk propelled the Bulls (40-11) to an 8-0 lead, but it wouldnt last long.

Denver (27-23) mounted a swift comeback, led almost exclusively by the starting backcourt of shooting guard Arron Afflalo (22 points) and point guard Ty Lawson, (27 points, nine assists) to quickly climb back into the contest.

C.J. Watson (17 points, 3-for-4 three-point shooting, eight assists), starting at point guard as Derrick Rose missed his seventh consecutive game with a strained right groin, became the Bulls offensive focal point, as both a scorer and playmaker, but it wasnt enough to slow down the Nuggets potent transition attack, which gained steam with veteran sixth man Al Harrington (17 points) in the game.

After weathering the storm and seeing the visitors overtake them, the hosts, buoyed the presence of backup center Omer Asik, fought back to finish the opening quarter with a 27-25 advantage.

The outset of the second period saw the Bench Mob, led by fan favorite John Lucas IIIs (17 points, 5-for-8 three-point shooting) scoring prowess and Kyle Korvers (14 points, 4-for-4 three-point shooting) outside marksmanship, extended the Bulls winning margin.

Denver countered with Harrington and the playmaking of veteran point guard Andre Miller (12 points, 10 assists), and once again made it a close-knit affair.

Korvers torrid shooting and the inside-outside game of Boozer, inserted back into the game midway through the quarter, were what the Bulls hung their hat on, but with Lawsons speed, Millers savvy and JaVale McGees defensive presence as equalizers, their guests again surged in front.

At the intermission, the home team faced a 54-52 deficit.

After the break, Denver immediately blitzed the Bulls, going on a 12-0 run to start the third quarter, as McGee and rookie Kenneth Faried wreaked havoc on the interior, giving the visitors a double-digit lead. The Nuggets fast-break simply overwhelmed the Bulls, as Lawsons open-court explosiveness was just too much to handle and armed with an array of finishers, he either converted himself or dished off for easy baskets.

Watson remained effective for the hosts, but had to sit when he picked up his fourth foul later in the period and with his teammates mostly unable to muster up enough offense to spark a comeback, the Bulls fell into a deeper hole.

At the conclusion of three periods, Denver had a comfortable 81-68 lead, as the games uneven officiating raised the ire of the home crowd.

In the final stanza, rookie swingman Jimmy Butler provided a spark in the early going and with Lucas providing his usual instant-offense contributions; it appeared as if the hosts would make one of their patented dramatic comebacks.

However, the Nuggets proved to be rude guests, and extended the lead with their depth, balance and overall talent, featuring the likes of Afflalo, Harrington, Lawson and Miller all making an impact.

Atypical to what occurs in most Bulls games, the hosts defense failed them, as they couldnt stop Denver in transition or prevent the visitors accuracy from deep range and uncharacteristically watched the deficit balloon as time went on, sending a good number of fans to the exits much earlier than usual.

Despite the Bulls shooting 13-for-20 from behind the arc, the Nuggets put the game far out of reach with flurry after flurry, demoralizing their normally defensively-sound hosts until the final buzzer mercifully ended the rare home loss.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”