Denver Nuggets 97, Chicago Bulls 109: Three Takeaways

Social & Digital Content Manager

Consistency continues to elude the Denver Nuggets. The up-and-down seven-game road trip continued Monday night in Chicago, where struggles on the offensive end of the floor sunk Denver in a 109-97 loss to the Bulls. At 2-2 on the trip, the Nuggets will look to build momentum in the stretch run before returning home to the Mile High City.

Denver used hot 3-point shooting (3-of-4) and an early rebounding advantage to open up a 15-7 lead in the first five minutes of Monday’s contest. The Nuggets extended the lead to 10 towards the end of the quarter as they knocked in five 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of action. Nikola Jokić dished out four assists in the frame as Denver secured a 27-18 lead after one.

Chicago got right back into the game in the opening minutes of the second quarter, as Lonzo Ball knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers during a 12-3 Bulls run to tie the game at 30. Shots weren’t falling regularly in the first half, but the Nuggets’ ball movement was certainly effective, as the Mile High squad racked up 15 assists in the first half. However, a late 9-0 run from the Bulls in the closing minutes of the half reduced Denver’s lead to 49-46.

A 7-0 run from Chicago prompted an early timeout from Nuggets head coach Michael Malone at the 9:28 mark of the third quarter as the Bulls took a four-point lead. The two teams battled back-and-forth throughout the remainder of the quarter, and Jokić quickly secured his 60th all-time triple-double during the third frame. Unfortunately for Denver, Zach LaVine took over to close the third quarter and led a 20-8 run as the Bulls took a 77-71 lead into the final quarter.

The Nuggets’ second unit struggled to close the gap to begin the fourth frame as Chicago extended the lead to double-digits at 86-73. Although Denver briefly reduced the lead to nine as the starters checked back in, the Bulls quickly responded to push the lead up to 15 with just under seven minutes remaining. The Nuggets couldn’t make a dent in the lead in the remaining minutes as Chicago closed out the season sweep.

Here are three takeaways from Monday’s loss.

Ball movement fueled Denver’s offense

Once again, the Nuggets’ offense relied on timely passes and ball movement to find the open shots. Although those shots didn’t go in at a high rate (just 39.2 percent from the field), Denver dished out 30 assists in Monday’s loss.

Following a 30-assist outing against the New York Knicks on Saturday, Denver’s offense appears to have found a rhythm when it comes to making cuts and moving without the ball to get open, a key staple of the Nuggets’ offense.

Second unit struggled to repeat Saturday’s performance

In Saturday’s victory over the Knicks, Denver’s second unit was essential. The Nuggets got 43 points off the bench in New York, but that same group wasn’t able to replicate that level of success against the Bulls Monday night.

Denver’s second unit finished with just 10 points on a combined 4-of-22 shooting from the field. Although Chicago’s shorthanded bench wasn’t able to take much of an advantage (the Bulls finished with just 12 bench points), Denver’s starters weren’t able to build a sizable advantage when matched up against Chicago’s starters.

Struggles inside the arc sunk Denver’s offense

Monday wasn’t the prettiest sight for fans of high-scoring games with plenty of shot-making.

Denver shot 39.2 percent from the field, with many of those struggles coming inside the arc. The Nuggets shot 27-of-65 (41.5 percent) on two-point attempts Monday night and ultimately finished with 28 points in the paint.

After a hot shooting first half from downtown (8-of-19), the Nuggets couldn’t maintain that level of shot-making in the second half and finished 11-of-32 from beyond the arc, which wasn’t enough to make up for the struggles inside the arc.

Denver is back in action Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans (6 p.m. MT).