Keys to the Game: Bulls at Nuggets (11.30.17)
Tonight the Bulls take on the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center in the Mile High City. Denver is coming off a 106-77 road thrashing at the hands of the Utah Jazz the other night, while Chicago also looks to get back on track after suffering its sixth straight loss Tuesday night, 104-99, to the Phoenix Suns at the United Center.
Chicago got off to a solid start, taking a 29-28 lead into the second quarter. Early on the Bulls did a good job of taking care of the ball while freely sharing it and acquiring a number of quality shots. Defensively, they came out focused and forced a number of Phoenix turnovers. However, once the second quarter got underway the Bulls went ice cold. The Suns immediately jumped ahead thanks to a 7-2 run. Overall Chicago hit just 6-of-26 shots (2-of-12 from beyond the arc) in the period. Yet the Bulls were, for the most part, able to keep the game close, trailing by three heading into the final stanza. That's when Phoenix caught fire again, ripping off a 14-2 run to open the 4th, stretching their lead to 15 points. However, Chicago never gave up. The team battled all the way to the end, but a couple of costly turnovers during the final minute stifled the comeback bid as the Bulls ended up 5-points short at the horn.
For Chicago to give themselves a chance of winning on the road they once again have to hit the court running hard at both ends of the floor and never let off the gas pedal. They have to be aggressive, fighting to capture every 50/50 ball and defensive rebound possible.
Denver's guards do an outstanding job of driving the ball deep into the paint and finding open snipers out on the perimeter. Gary Harris, a 6'4” sharpshooter from Michigan State, is knocking down 44.0% of his shots from beyond the arc, and almost 50% overall, averaging 14.3 points in 33.1 minutes a game. Will Barton comes off the bench, yet logs almost 30 minutes a game in contributing 14.4 points, hitting 40.9% from downtown. The Nuggets also have an incredibly talented 6'10” center in 22-year old Nikola Jokic, who not only enjoys overpowering opponents and scoring down on the block, but is also a deft passer from up top at the elbow. On the year Jokic averages 15.9 points, 11 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
To that end the Bulls will also need to open up the floor offensively in order to force Denver's defense to scramble and cover ground. Chicago's ballhandlers, specifically Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant, will likewise need to sport an aggressive mentality, relentlessly attacking the rim while at the same time not hesitate to be a catalyst in swinging the ball from player-to-player in order to locate an open teammate with a good look at the basket. As a team, the Bulls also have to crash the boards at both ends of the floor, as Denver's one of the NBA's best rebounding squads. In fact the Nuggets lead the league in offensive rebounding (12.3) and second chance scoring (16.3). Thus if Chicago fails to snag a missed shot or capture a loose ball, it's vital they race back defensively to in order to deny the Nuggets opportunities to put points on the board in transition.
From the moment the Bulls step off the team bus they will have to be determined to establish a fast pace yet also stay under control by keeping turnovers in check. At no time can Chicago afford to sit back and allow Denver to outhustle and out execute them.