Nuggets face must-win situation versus Bulls

CHICAGO -- The Denver Nuggets find themselves in the hunt for a Western Conference playoff spot, but they know time is running out if they still hope to make their move.

The Nuggets try to end a two-game skid which hasn't helped their chances when they face the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. The Bulls are rebuilding and short-handed thanks to a recent rash of injuries but as Denver opens a season-high seven-game road trip, the Nuggets realize they need to make the most of the opportunity still in front of them.

Still, even considering the Bulls' challenges, Nuggets coach Michael Malone isn't taking anything for granted.

"It's not going to be easy," Malone said, according to the Denver Post. "Any game with 11 games to go is going to be a hard-fought game."

The Nuggets (38-33) are attempting to position themselves for the final Western Conference postseason berth, but have struggled throughout the season against losing teams. Denver had its share of troubles in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, but rebounded Monday night, albeit in a 149-141 double overtime loss to the Miami Heat.

Despite Monday's setback, Malone was encouraged by his team's effort after the disappointing effort against the Grizzlies, who entered the game having lost 19 straight. Having moved on, Malone is looking for the Nuggets to take a step back in the right direction against Chicago, which has been playing without stars Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and rookie Lauri Markkanen -- all of whom have been injured.

Even with that being the case, Malone realizes if the Nuggets are to keep themselves in position to advance to the postseason, they have to do their part. They are two games behind Utah for the final playoff spot in the West.

"Effort, fight, urgency ... cannot be words that we're talking about," Malone said, according to the Post.

The Bulls, meanwhile, are just trying to remain competitive as the regular season nears a close. Chicago (24-46) has dropped two straight and four of its past six games. Without their Big Three of Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has been forced to string together a new-look starting lineup that has struggled to establish much consistency or rhythm.

Chicago is coming off a 110-92 loss to the New York Knicks. If and when the Bulls can move closer to getting back to full strength remains uncertain.

Markkanen is still dealing with back spasms, LaVine has tendinitis in his left knee and Dunn has been in a walking boot after Hoiberg told reporters that Dunn had a setback with the turf toe injury he has been dealing with.

The injuries mount while the Bulls are battling for the bottom and a lottery pick in this summer's NBA Draft. While they have been careful to avoid the appearance that they are tanking, Hoiberg maintains their issues heading into Wednesday's game are real.

"We understand that these are legitimate things going on," Hoiberg told reporters Monday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "We've still got a lot of things going on with the three guys we accomplished in (last year's) trade -- Kris and Lauri and Zach -- and hopefully we do get them back on the floor sometime soon. When they're ready to go, they're going to be back out there playing again. At the same time, we understand that right now we've got to look at some guys in different situations, which we've done."
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