Bulls vs. Nuggets Preview: Are Zach LaVine & Co. Undervalued in Denver?

Action Network NBA betting analyst Austin Wang previews Friday night's matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets.

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Bulls vs. Nuggets Odds

Bulls Odds +4.5
Nuggets Odds -4.5
Over/Under 211.5
Time 9 p.m. ET
TV NBA League Pass
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Chicago Bulls travel to Denver on Friday night to finish off their five-game road trip out west in the high altitude. The Denver Nuggets are fresh off two straight losses and on the second night of a back-to-back.

Both teams have overachieved to begin this season. The Bulls are 10-5 and tied for third in the Eastern Conference. The Nuggets are 9-6 and tied for sixth seed without star guard Jamal Murray and have been without Michael Porter Jr. for the previous five games.

Each team has been dealing with a rough schedule and with injuries to key players. Which team will shake it off and prevail in this matchup?

Will the Road Trip Wear on the Bulls?

The Bulls have surprised the NBA with their excellent play. They rank top 10 in Offense Rating (10th — 109.0) and Defensive Rating (seventh — 103.7) through Thursday’s games, per NBA Advanced Stats.

DeMar DeRozan is having a resurgence in his career. He ranks second on the team in points per game (26.6) and has exceeded 30 points in five games. He joins Zach LaVine to give the Bulls a potent offensive attack that will put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses.

Nikola Vucevic has missed five straight games due to COVID and will likely miss another game for the Bulls. However, this might be a positive for the team. He’s having an off start to the season, averaging 13.6 points per game on 39.5% shooting from the field.

They’ve moved Alex Caruso to the starting lineup and he was one assist away from a triple double in their last game. He’s brought energy and defense that complements LaVine, DeRozan and Lonzo Ball very well in the small lineup.

The Bulls have shot very well this year. They are eighth in Effective Field Goal Percentage all season and have been second in their previous five games, per NBA Advanced Stats. Denver is known for their stifling defense, but they do not possess the offensive firepower to keep up on a nightly basis.

Teams on a fourth (or more) consecutive road game facing a team off no rest have gone 50-27-1 (64.9%) against the spread since the 2013-2014 season, per the Sports Data Query Language at Gimme the Dog. This is active as a play on the Bulls.

I think the market overrates the impact of the long road trip on a team. These teams tend to outperform expectations, especially when the home team is dealing with their own fatigue issues on the second game of a back-to-back.

Denver Needs Role Players to Rally

The Nuggets have gotten off to a solid start, but have come back to earth with two recent losses. They are on the second game of a back-to-back after getting blown out by the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday evening. None of their opponents have scored more than 100 points in a game during that stretch.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic has continued to dominate. Teams have been struggling to stop the versatile big man’s offensive arsenal that destroys teams in the paint, but he can also spread the floor with his excellent shooting. Jokic’s most impressive qualities are his passing skill and ability to set up the offense. However, there is not much support on offense for Jokic.

Porter is out indefinitely with a back injury and Murray is still rehabbing from a torn ACL. Will Barton has stepped up in spurts, but Aaron Gordon has not quite lived up to his potential. Both players will have to step it up if they want to keep up with the Bulls.

Rookie Bones Hyland has shown potential and has been a key contributor off the Nuggets’ bench. However, he injured his ankle in a recent game against the Mavericks and went 0-7 from the field against the 76ers on Thursday. This will be another blow to the Nuggets’ offense if Hyland is not at full health.

Bulls-Nuggets Pick

The Bulls are very appealing to me as an underdog. The Nuggets have played well, but the injuries were bound to catch up to them sooner or later. Jokic can’t do it all and he is simply not getting enough support from the rest of this decimated Nuggets team.

On paper, this appears to be a brutal situational spot for the Bulls on the tail end of a long road trip, but I think this impact has been overcompensated for in the current line. I make the Nuggets only one-point favorites and see this more of a coin-flip game.

Thus, I see value on the Bulls getting points and recommend a pick on the underdog.

Pick: Bulls +4.5 (down to +2)