DENVER — The Denver Nuggets made it back from the brink of destruction to reach .500, but they had to sweat it out to get there.
It was worth it for a team that two weeks ago was about to have its season go down the drain.
Guard Ty Lawson had 20 points and 12 assists, including a big basket in the final moments, and the Nuggets won their fifth in a row, beating the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls 114-109 Tuesday night.
Guard Arron Afflalo added 19 points for the Nuggets, who are 7-7 after a 1-6 start to the season but had to hold off the Bulls at the end.
“I liked everything but the finish,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “We wanted to finish the day off well. We played pretty well throughout the game and then we had some weird things happen.”
Guard Jimmy Butler tied a career high in points (32) and tied a season high in rebounds with nine for the Bulls. Forward Pau Gasol contributed 22 points and 11 rebounds for a battered Chicago team.
The Bulls, down two frontcourt players to start the game, lost guard Derrick Rose to left hamstring tightness in the first half.
He was held out in the second half for precautionary reasons, but the guard said he didn’t re-injury his hamstring.
“It’s nothing like I pulled it again or anything like that,” he said. “It was just that I wasn’t able to affect the game the way I wanted to.”
Rose played tentatively a night after logging 25 minutes in a win over Utah. At halftime, coach Tom Thibodeau told him he felt it was better to sit the former MVP and not risk further injury.
“It was really nothing that happened other than I didn’t want to take any chances,” Thibodeau said. “The way the game was going, the way we were going, I just wanted to go a different way. He didn’t re-injure it. I just didn’t want to take a chance.”
Forward Joakim Noah had surgery on his left knee in the offseason, and the joint still isn’t at full strength. Forward Taj Gibson’s left ankle has been an issue since the offseason. It felt good until he rolled it against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 31. On Friday, Gibson landed on Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews’ foot in the third quarter.
Chicago (9-6) did get Kirk Hinrich back after the guard missed two games with a chest contusion.
Hinrich’s return came just in time. Rose, who has played in just seven games this season, had two points and three assists in 10 minutes.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on here,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to get people healthy.”
Injuries are nothing new to the Bulls, who sit atop the Central Division despite having just four players play in all 15 games this season.
Butler has helped. He has scored at least 22 points in five of the last six games while playing heavy minutes.
“I truly just want to win,” Butler said. “Both of the games where I’ve scored 32 points we’ve lost. I’ll take scoring two points and win than 32 and lose any day, every day.”
The Nuggets are dealing with injuries, too. Guard Randy Foye tore a muscle in his left quad in Sunday’s game against the Lakers, and he will be out at least three weeks. Center JaVale McGee left the Los Angeles game with soreness in his surgically repaired left tibia.
Denver had enough Tuesday to overcome those losses. Forwards Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried were the catalysts in the first half to help the Nuggets take a 56-49 lead at the break.
Hinrich sparked a Chicago run that cut Denver’s lead to 64-61 midway through the third. After the Nuggets increased its margin to eight, Hinrich fed forward Mike Dunleavy for a 3-pointer. Hinrich had seven points and four assists in the third quarter.
The Nuggets led by as many as 14 but Chicago got within 107-103 with 1:02 left after guard Aaron Brooks hit a 3-pointer and a layup.
They were aided by a reversal of forward Danilo Gallinari’s desperation 3-pointer with 2:06 left. A review of the play showed he stepped out of bounds on the shot, and a 12-point lead turned to eight after a Gasol free throw.
“They said that he stepped on the line so they took the three points off the board and Chicago comes down and hits a three,” Shaw said.
After an Afflalo bucket, Butler converted a three-point play to make it 109-106 with 30 seconds left.
“We fouled a little too much,” Gallinari said. “One of the reasons they were able to stay in the game was because they shot a lot of free throws.”
NOTES: The Bulls haven’t won in Denver since 2006. The Nuggets have won 14 of 15 against Chicago at Pepsi Center. … Denver led for the entire game for the first time this season. … Chicago had 27 points on 14 Denver turnovers. … Butler was 18-for-20 from the line. Both are career highs for him.
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