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Bulls upbeat despite dropping preseason finale to Nuggets

Bulls forward Bobby Portis drives against Nuggets forward Paul Millsap on Friday at the United Center. Nam Y. Huh/AP

Ready or not, the Bulls’ next game will count.

But you might not want to use that exact phrasing with hyper-competitive forward Bobby Portis.

“With me, every game counts, whether it’s preseason, a pickup basketball game, playing a video game — about everything counts for me,” Portis said with a firm stare. “I take everything personal. I go out there and give it my all every night.”

That mentality could help the Bulls outperform expectations with the regular season less than a week away.

The Bulls’ up-and-down preseason wrapped up with a 98-93 loss to the Nuggets on Friday. They allowed 33 points in the first quarter and trailed by 12 at halftime before clamping down on defense in the second half.

The Bulls finished the preseason at 2-3. Four practices remain before the regular-season opener Thursday at the 76ers.

“We’re in a much better place than we were a week ago,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I liked our mentality in these last couple of games, especially from a defensive standpoint. That’s got to be our constant every time we step on the floor — continue to go out with that type of mentality and keep ourselves in it.”

An offensive breakthrough by recently demoted forward Jabari Parker also helped.

Parker came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points, going 7-for-11 from the field in almost 32 minutes. He scored eight in a row in the fourth quarter thanks to two three-pointers and a drive to the rim for a violent dunk.

“It was great to see Jabari have the type of game that he did on the offensive end,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he did a really good job of attacking, making simple plays, and then his shots started falling and going down. He started the game more in a facilitating role and really got it going with his shot.”

Parker was not available to reporters after the game for the second time in three days. Hoiberg said he had a “good talk” with Parker on Friday morning about the importance of his role with the second unit.

If Parker is salty about being bumped to a reserve role, he has not let his emotions spill over into the locker room.

“He’s doing well,” point guard Kris Dunn said. “Like he says, it’s an adjustment. I think he’s doing good. He’s still communicating, he’s still coming in, having a good personality about it. He’s not letting it affect the locker room. That’s the biggest thing.”

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Zach LaVine scored 12 points and shot 5-for-8 in the first half but rested in the second half. Portis, Cameron Payne, Justin Holiday and rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. scored 10 apiece. Carter capped off a solid preseason with seven points per game.

Holiday said the Bulls’ sub-.500 preseason record did not reflect their recent improvement.

“We’re missing Lauri [Markkanen] and Denzel [Valentine], but at the same time, I think that we’re starting to do a better job defensively,” Holiday said. “That’s the main thing we’re trying to make sure we get together before the season starts. We know on offense we’re going to be able to score.”

Portis dismissed critics who project the Bulls to struggle again this season.

“We don’t really care about outsiders,” he said. “My whole life, I’ve always been a guy that’s been the underdog. If we just have an underdog mentality, go out there on a night-to-night basis and hang our hats on the defensive end and just try to play as one, I feel like we’ll have a good season.”