Coach's Corner: Jim O'Brien on Bulls vs. Nuggets
By Jim O'Brien (As told to Andrew Pearson)

The Bulls visit the Nuggets Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

The main thing is that these two teams are struggling in a big way. Denver is struggling, having lost five out of six and the Bulls have dropped the first four on their seven-game road trip, the last game a killer against the Jazz. It is very painful to play a really good game like they did against Utah and have someone stick a dagger in your heart like Mehmet Okur did at the end of that one, but Chicago will be ok.

Jack Ramsey said to me one time when he was coaching, "Sometimes you wonder if you're ever going to win another game." I don't think the Bulls feel that way. I like their mental toughness. They are a group that from the outside looking in, gets along well. They're not guys that ever hang their heads, and Scott Skiles won't let that happen. He has good control of his team and they believe in themselves, despite the tough times so far. As a result, this will be a game of tremendous intensity. There is added pressure on both teams to get things back on the straight and narrow.

The Bulls need a big game from Gordon.
Tim Heitman/NBAE/Getty Images


One of the keys for Denver is to do a better job defensively on the perimeter than they did on Monday against Golden State, when they allowed the Warriors to hit 10 three-pointers and come away with the victory, 122-114. The Nuggets don't shoot many threes themselves. Therefore, Denver must establish a real post presence – get Kenyon Martin going on the inside – and try to hurt Chicago with drives, short jumpshots, and post-ups by Carmelo Anthony, who has been scoring at a career-high rate this year at 25.7 points per game. It's going to be interesting to see if Denver can take advantage of Chicago's lack of depth up front.

On the other hand, for Chicago, they have to make sure they have a big-time game from the perimeter to make up for their glaring lack of an inside presence. Their top four scorers, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni, are all perimeter players. Chicago is second in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage, averaging over seven makes from downtown per game. To give themselves the best chance of winning, they have to approach ten from deep.

The Bulls need to do a good job of spacing the court and then be able to attack the rim on drives after they space. With Martin and Marcus Camby inside, they're really not going to get enough back-to-the-basket type offense. Their guards will have to do a good job of understanding when the three is there and when the driving lanes are there. The perimeter game is key for Chicago. It is going to be up to Andre Miller and Greg Buckner in particular to try to make sure Gordon and Hinrich don't get off in a big way – the way that Baron Davis, 23 points, and Jason Richardson, 28 points, did against them the other night.

Gordon has really come on since the beginning of the New Year when Scott Skiles inserted him into the starting lineup. As an NBA player, there is certainly motivation to want to start. Gordon is no different. Guys want to be out there for a lot of minutes. For opposing defenses, Gordon is just a terror on the offensive end. He can really hurt you. However, one of the things that Skiles has been talking about is that search for consistency. Two games ago, Gordon had 39 points and Hinrich didn't score a bucket. They need to have a real balanced attack and their inside guys have to give them big games.


Certainly Coach Skiles is going to want his Bulls team to get one or two victories over the next three games. Denver is a tough place to start. They're 16-9 at home and that altitude does have an impact on you. The Nuggets absolutely need a W. Utah is only 1 1/2 games behind them now, not only for the division lead, but also for the eighth playoff spot. It's a very, very big game for both teams. The whole key is going to be inside-outside. The outside has to work for Chicago while Denver has to try and control the paint in a big way.

-- Jim O'Brien appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association.