Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude back-to-back against Bulls

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

For the fourth time this season, the Denver Nuggets will have to move on quickly from their previous game in order to conclude a back-to-back set. This time, Denver will be able to remain in the Mile High City as the Chicago Bulls come to town for a matchup between two hopeful contenders.

Denver (9-6) struggled Thursday night in a 103-89 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite 49 combined points from Nikola Jokić and Will Barton, Denver’s offense never found a rhythm. The loss was Denver’s second in a row, making Friday’s matchup an important opportunity to bounce back.

MORE: Takeaways from loss to 76ers

Chicago (10-5) made waves in the offseason with the acquisitions of Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso. Those three have joined players such as Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević (currently out due to COVID-19 protocols) to form a dynamic team on both ends of the floor. As of Thursday, Chicago ranked in the top eight in both offensive and defensive rating this season.

Denver swept the season series between the two teams last season.

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Win the turnover battle

One area Chicago has thrived in to begin the season has been the possession battle. On the offensive end, the Bulls have limited their mistakes, as their 13.5 turnover percentage is the seventh-lowest in the league. On the other end of the floor, Chicago’s aggressive defense has resulted in a 16.9 turnover percentage for its opponents, the third-highest in the league.

Meanwhile, Denver has vastly improved in this regard as the season has progressed, currently ranking slightly above the league average on the offensive end with a 14.3 turnover percentage. The Nuggets have forced a turnover on 14.8 percent of their opponent’s possessions, good for 15th in the league.

Denver will have to protect the ball and value each possession against a Bulls team that looks to force turnovers and take advantage in transition.

Defending inside the arc

Chicago’s offense has bucked the recent trend of prioritizing 3-point attempts over mid-range jumpers, as the Bulls have focused on attacking inside the arc this season.

70.1 percent of Chicago’s total shot attempts have come from the mid-range or at the rim, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise with the Bulls adding one of the game’s elite mid-range scorers in DeRozan during the offseason, while LaVine is capable of getting inside the paint on a regular basis.

Although Chicago hasn’t shot well around the hoop (61.4 percent, which ranks 22nd in the league), the Bulls have converted 42.4 percent of those mid-range attempts, which ranks in the top 10. Denver’s defense has invited mid-range jumpers as it focuses on limiting attempts from beyond the arc and from inside the paint.

Despite not taking many threes, Chicago has been elite from downtown, ranking third in 3-point percentage at 38.3 percent.

The battle in transition

Both teams have had slightly different approaches to pushing the pace in advantage situations.

While Denver ranks sixth in the frequency of possessions beginning with a transition play, the Nuggets rank 17th in points per 100 possessions added in those plays. On the other hand, the Bulls rank 13th in frequency, but first in points per 100 possessions added in those transition opportunities.

On the defensive end, both teams have had success limiting both opportunities and effectiveness for opponents. Chicago (third) and Denver (fifth) both rank in the top five of opponent frequency of possessions beginning in transition, while the Nuggets have been slightly better in terms of curbing the effectiveness of those possessions for opponents.

This key area goes hand-in-hand with the turnover battle. If Denver can limit its own mistakes and therefore cut down on the transition opportunities for the Bulls, it will go a long way in securing a key victory at home.

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