Following a tough loss to the division rival Pacers in Indianapolis, in which they gave up an uncharacteristic 111 points, the Bulls are back on the road--after a brief stop back in Chicago--where they'll face the high-flying Nuggets in Denver's high altitude Thursday night.

Whether or not they have defensive anchor Joakim Noah back in the lineup--the All-Star center missed the team's last three games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot and was deemed a game-time decision; fellow starter Kirk Hinrich didn't make the trip, as he continues to deal with a right elbow injury--or not, the Bulls will have a challenge on their hands in the first half of back-to-back contests.

Denver, one of the league's deepest teams, as well as one of the most offensively explosive, also enjoys an extremely formidable home court advantage at the Pepsi Center, and after struggling at the outset of the campaign, partially due to a road-heavy schedule, is beginning to shape up into the squad that many observers predicted would be one of the West's most dangerous teams.

From sharpshooting forward Danilo Gallinari, the point-guard tandem of Ty Lawson and veteran Andre Miller to relentless second-year interior banger Kenneth Faried and a solid cadre of athletic wings and seven-foot centers, including the talented JaVale McGee, the Bulls--whose walking wounded now includes Marco Belinelli, who suffered a right ankle injury during Monday night's loss in Indianapolis, though he returned to the game and scored a season-high 24 points; the reserve shooting guard only shot during Wednesday afternoon's practice in Denver--will have their hands full trying to exert their disciplined, ball-control, defensive-oriented method of play against the Nuggets.

Beyond the clash of styles, not to mention the ongoing depth and health challenges the Bulls will face, with the team's sudden emergence as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender, every matchup, regardless of the odds, will be scrutinized, as their ability to exceed expectations has raised the bar, meaning that the level of excellence reached over the past two seasons, even as sidelined superstar Derrick Rose has yet to make his season debut, is once again the goal, both internally and from the perspective of outsiders.