By Brian Howell
Special Contributor to CSNChicago.com
BOULDER, Colo. – If the Bulls play like this during the regular season, they might be a little more concerned.
For now, first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg was able to look at the silver lining after his team was routed by the Denver Nuggets, 112-94, on Thursday night at Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado campus.
“It’s a process and it’s one that we’ll definitely learn from, all of us,” Hoiberg said. “I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to hit a little bit of adversity early on in this thing and see what you’re made of and try to bounce back.”
Playing without veterans Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose, the Bulls were led by Nikola Mirotic’s 18 points, but never recovered from an abysmal second quarter.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
The Bulls entered the second with a 21-20 lead, but trailed 57-34 at intermission, as the Nuggets outscored them 26-3 during the first 7:37 of the frame. Ten turnovers and poor shot selection buried the Bulls in that quarter.
“I thought we hung our heads a little bit when it wasn’t going well for us offensively,” said Hoiberg, who was 2-3 in this building as a college player and coach before Thursday.
While the Bulls were missing four key players, they did start Mirotic, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah. Butler, who had six points on 2-for-10 shooting, and Noah, who had two points and five rebounds, both sat out the second half.
Noah got through a scary moment in the second quarter, when the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried rolled onto Noah’s left leg while the two battled for a rebound. Noah continued to play, but iced his knee throughout the second half.
“It’s just a little contusion,” Noah said. “I have a little swelling. It’s the knee I had surgery on, so I’m just trying to be careful.”
Just as painful may have been watching his team, which fell behind by 28 in the second half.
“We’ve got to play a lot harder,” Noah said. “We’re disappointed with the way we played tonight. We were out-hustled in every area. We’re learning a new system, a new philosophy, but it’s no excuse.”
Doug McDermott chipped in with 15 points for the Bulls, while rookie Bobby Portis had a double-double (10 points, 16 rebounds) and Jordan Crawford had 10 points.
“We came back in the second half and we played a little bit better,” Mirotic said. “We need to keep working hard. I’m really looking forward to keep working, to keep improving the team. We have a really good team, a young team, players with experience, so I think we will be fine.”