Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude season series against Bulls

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Wednesday was a feel-good night for the Denver Nuggets.

In a 129-104 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, Denver dominated inside the arc to the tune of 64 points in the paint and 57.8 percent shooting from the field as a team. Nikola Jokić had another triple-double, Michael Porter Jr. dropped 28 points and 13 rebounds, and Facundo Campazzo set new career highs in assists (10) and steals (four) in a game.

MORE: Three takeaways from win over Hornets

Now the Nuggets (24-16) shift their focus to the stretch run of this five-game homestand, which includes Friday’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls.

Chicago (18-21) has been treading in place as of late, going 5-5 in its last 10 games. One major storyline for the Bulls in the second half of the season has been the lineup changes that head coach Billy Donovan has made, inserting Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young into the starting group in place of Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr.

Denver won the first meeting between these two teams back on March 1, a game in which Jokić dominated with 39 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

GARY HARRIS – LEFT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

MONTE MORRIS – LEFT QUADRICEPS STRAIN. OUT.

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Thaddeus Young

Positions are certainly fluid in today’s NBA, but given Young’s prowess on the defensive end, it’s likely that he will be tasked with slowing down the Serbian big man in the starting lineup.

Although Young did have some success in this matchup in the first meeting between the two teams (Jokić shot 2-of-5 from the field when directly matched up against Young, per NBA’s tracking data), the three-time All-Star was still able to get to his spots and shot 17-of-25 from inside the arc in that March 1 victory.

Chicago will likely look to double-team Jokić if he gets going in the post early, especially with Young playing as a small-ball center at just 6’8”.

If Jokić can get going early on Friday, it will open up other opportunities for Denver’s supporting cast to take advantage of a Bulls defense that has struggled at times this season.

Protect the rim on defense

Chicago’s offense ranks just below league average this season despite impressive shot-making, especially from beyond the arc and around the basket.

That area inside the paint is what Denver must be focused on, as the Nuggets continue to have their fair share of struggles defending the rim this season. Denver still ranks last in the league this season in opponent field-goal percentage from within four feet of the basket at 69.1 percent.

Although the Nuggets have done an effective job in limiting the number of attempts from this area of the floor, Chicago looks to get the cup early and often on offense. The Bulls rank ninth in the frequency of shot attempts coming from within four feet and have converted at a 65.5 percent clip on such shots this season.

In the first meeting between the two teams, Denver won the paint battle 60-54, but it will take a team effort on defense to limit Chicago’s effectiveness from that area of the floor.

However, there are areas that Denver’s defense can attack and exploit Chicago’s offensive weaknesses…

Capitalize on Chicago’s mistakes

This may sound easy, but Denver’s defense has a prime opportunity to generate some easy offense on Friday against a Bulls team that has struggled mightily to take care of the ball.

On the season, Chicago ranks 29th in the league in turnover percentage, coughing it up on 15.5 percent of its possessions. That number is 1.4 percent higher than the league average and is a key reason why Chicago’s offense only ranks 16th in the league, despite posting the seventh-best effective field-goal percentage this season.

On the other end of the floor, forcing mistakes has been one of Denver’s stronger attributes, ranking 12th in opponent turnover percentage on the year. Opponents have coughed it up on 14.6 percent of their possessions against Denver’s defense this season, which has helped generate some easy points on offense.

If Denver can get aggressive on defense and force Chicago into mistakes, the Nuggets should be able to find success on the offensive end in Friday’s contest.

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