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Bulls-Nuggets Preview

AP - Sports

While it wasn't pretty, the Chicago Bulls managed to keep their winning streak alive with a gritty effort their last time out.

Coach Tom Thibodeau's team will have to get by without one of its best defenders going forward.

Jimmy Butler will miss the first of several games Thursday night when the Bulls open their annual circus trip against former teammate Nate Robinson and the Denver Nuggets.

Chicago (6-3) has followed a 1-3 start with five straight victories, a stretch during which it has limited opponents to an average of 81.8 points. Chicago held Charlotte to 36.3 percent shooting in Monday's 86-81 win, but that result came at a cost.

Butler, averaging 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and a team-leading 1.8 steals, suffered a sprained right big toe and will not accompany the team on its six-game road swing. He is listed as week to week.

"Jimmy is someone we're definitely going to miss, especially with his energy and defense," Derrick Rose told the team's official website. "He's been knocking down shots. But the way our team is, if one guy goes down, the other guy has to step up and do a great job. That's Mike Dunleavy, Kirk (Hinrich) or myself if I'm playing the two. We've just got to fill in for him."

Rose has struggled to regain his MVP form after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, posting career lows of 15.0 points on 34.4 percent shooting and 4.5 assists per game. He had 12 points and shot 4 of 13 against the Bobcats, his second game back since sitting out Friday with a hamstring injury.

"It was a tough, hard-fought game and I liked that Derrick showed a lot of perseverance," Thibodeau said. "He had timely buckets late and made some big buckets for us. That was huge. Each game he has gotten better and better. I am good with where he is."

The Bulls may need a big game from Rose as they try to end their woes in Denver, which has taken 12 of 13 in the series at home, including the last seven by an average of 15.0 points. The Nuggets have won the past four matchups overall, though Rose missed all of them.

The Bulls are surely looking forward to reuniting with Robinson, who joined the Nuggets (4-6) after spending last season in Chicago and averaging 16.3 points in the playoffs. The 5-foot-9 guard has been dealing with a wrist injury, averaging 4.2 points in limited minutes over the last six games, but he's hoping to be ready Thursday.

"I play through all injuries if I can," Robinson told the Nuggets' official website. "I love the game too much."

The Nuggets return home looking to avoid a third straight loss after falling 115-113 at Oklahoma City on Monday. Ty Lawson had 29 points while J.J. Hickson scored 18 to go with 19 boards.

Denver led for most of the game before shooting 6 of 21 and getting outscored 32-21 in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets, whose 71.0 free-throw percentage ranks near the bottom of the NBA, hit a season-worst 58.1 percent (25 of 43) from the foul line.

"We watched a lot of film and talked as a group about winning plays, especially in the fourth quarter, that allowed them to win," coach Brian Shaw said. "Apart from that, we spent a lot of time shooting free throws just trying to get guys to understand that part of it is mental."

The Nuggets are averaging 112.3 points during a three-game home winning streak.

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