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Nuggets-Bulls Preview

AP - Sports

Derrick Rose would much rather be playing than watching, but he can't deny how well the Chicago Bulls have been playing without him.

The reigning MVP will miss his seventh consecutive game Monday night when Chicago hosts the Denver Nuggets, who have yet to win on their crucial seven-game road trip.

The Bulls (40-10) became the first team to secure a playoff spot when Luol Deng's follow-up basket at the buzzer in overtime beat Toronto 102-101 on Saturday.

Rose is still on the mend with a groin injury, but the Bulls have gone 12-4 without their star this season. He's unsure when he'll be able to return, though he said he's been feeling much better of late.

''It's definitely hard but, at the same time I'm happy they are playing great. We're winning games,'' Rose said. ''Of course I want to be out there. I hate being injured, but right now we're in a good groove.''

Chicago also played a significant portion of the game without Joakim Noah, who was ejected after throwing the ball at an official in the second quarter.

Carlos Boozer scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Deng and C.J. Watson - Rose's replacement in the starting lineup - each finished with 23 points.

Coach Tom Thibodeau praised Watson and the rest of the reserves for their willingness to step up while shorthanded.

''I think having the right attitude and approach is the first step and the most important step,'' Thibodeau said. ''Everybody stays ready. We feel very good about our bench. When somebody has faced a new challenge, they've responded well.''

With everyone accepting their roles, Thibodeau said there's no reason to rush Rose back with 16 games remaining.

''We want to make sure he's completely healthy,'' Thibodeau said.

Chicago has won five of its last six at home, which may bode well against a Denver team that has lost the first two games of their extended road trip.

The Nuggets (26-23) are in a three-way tie for seventh place in the Western Conference after falling 117-100 in Minnesota on Sunday, two days after beginning their trip with a 121-102 loss at Utah.

Denver is allowing an NBA-worst 104.6 points per game on the road while giving up more than 120 points three times. It is allowing 116.3 points over its last four overall.

JaVale McGee had 13 points and 11 rebounds Sunday.

''This giving up 115 points a game the last three or four has got to stop,'' point guard Ty Lawson said.

In contrast, the Nuggets are the league's highest scoring team averaging 103.7 points, but the Bulls rank second in team defense giving up a paltry 88.7 per game.

Coach George Karl said he's confident his team will improve down the stretch.

''We might not be in the place where we're going to play well all the time,'' Karl said. ''But if we fight the right way, we'll find ways to get wins.

''We can't put it in cruise control anymore."

Rose also was injured in the most recent meeting when Denver hit a shot at the buzzer for a 98-97 win Nov. 26, 2010, despite 33 points from Watson.

The Nuggets have won three of the last four meetings overall, though the Bulls have won four of the last five in Chicago.

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