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Bulls show improvement but lose to Nuggets

The Bulls’ effort Wednesday night was much better. It still wasn’t good enough for a victory.

Nuggets forward Paul Millsap’s put-back in overtime handed the Bulls a 108-107 loss. The Bulls led by six with 2:32 left in regulation on a jumper by Zach LaVine but couldn’t stop Denver from forcing OT.

In overtime, Justin Holiday’s three-pointer gave the Bulls a one-point lead, but Millsap’s tip-in off a miss by Nikola Jokic dropped the Bulls to 2-6.

Regardless, it was a marked improvement from the embarrassment Monday, when the Bulls gave up 92 points in the first half and allowed Klay Thompson to make an NBA-record 14 three-pointers.

Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) drives to the basket as Chicago Bulls forward Wendell Carter Jr. (34) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)

“I said we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves with how we come out of the locker room,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The guys were focused; we had a good session [Tuesday]. We normally wouldn’t do a lot, but we did have work to do, obviously, after the debacle against Golden State, and the guys responded with a good practice, and it carried over to a good shootaround.

“The effort, if we play like that, we’re going to be fine.”

That effort was reassuring, but the Bulls still were left with an incomplete feeling. Two days after one of the worst losses in franchise history, they were encouraged that their improved defense allowed them to push the Nuggets.

Allowing 23 second-chance points, however, proved costly.

“I think we did a good job defensively, and we did a good job fighting, coming out with the right effort at the beginning of the game,” Holiday said. “We obviously wish it ended differently.”

The game also began differently.

For the first time, Hoiberg started Jabari Parker. Looking to counter Denver’s frontcourt and get the Bulls off to a better start, Parker was in the first five instead of Chandler Hutchison.

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The Bulls did get off to a better start — trailing only 28-24 after the first quarter — but it wasn’t because of Parker, who committed two fouls in the first 3:14

Parker had six points in 35½ minutes.

“He did pick up two,” Hoiberg said. “It’s unfortunate, it’s tough to get in a rhythm when that happens, but I thought Jabari rebounded the ball well down the stretch, pushed the ball down the floor and made some good plays.”

Wendell Carter Jr. had a career-best 25 points, and LaVine had 28. Both were heartened by the effort but not the result.

“We had the win,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘We have to learn how to win. We brought it all the way down to the wire. We made some mistakes, but we fought. That’s the main thing. It was a bounce-back on how to fight. Still sucks because you play such a good game, you want that result.”

Carter, who played Jokic to a stalemate, had similar thoughts.

“It was very tough,’’ Carter said. ‘‘At one point, I felt like we were doing everything correctly, then everything kind of went down the drain. Just didn’t do the little things tonight. I feel like we hit our open shots. We did all the spectacular plays, but the simple box-outs and the small things that technically win games, we didn’t do those.”