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Preview: Nuggets vs. Bulls

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Denver tries to keep the good vibes flowing as they take on the Chicago Bulls in friendly confines of the Pepsi Center

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets will play host to the Chicago Bulls tonight, welcoming a Bulls team that has been on its annual circus trip, this time criss-crossing the West. They’ve won three of the four games so far, but have dropped nine straight in Denver. The Nuggets are looking to make it ten in a row now that their starting rotations are beginning to sort themselves out and they are getting healthier. The Nuggets have a chance to show Dwyane Wade what he missed out on by taking Chicago’s offer in free agency - if everything goes right.

The Basics

Who: Chicago Bulls (9-5) at Denver Nuggets (5-8)

When: 7:00 P.M. MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE AM 950 Altitude Radio

Rival blog: Blog A Bull

Position Nuggets Bulls Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Rajon Rondo Even
SG Will Barton Dwyane Wade Bulls
SF Danilo Gallinari Jimmy Butler Bulls
PF Kenneth Faried Taj Gibson Nuggets
C Jusuf Nurkic Robin Lopez Even
Bench Wilson Chandler, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez, Jameer Nelson, Alonzo Gee, Malik Beasley Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, Nikola Mirotic Nuggets

Injured players: Darrell Arthur - probable (knee), Will Barton - probable (ankle), Mike Miller - out (personal), Gary Harris - out (foot), Paul Zipser, day-to-day (back), Doug McDermott (concussion protocol)

Key match up: Jimmy Butler vs. Wilson Chandler

Jimmy Butler has been flying his All-Star flag proudly this season, averaging 25 points, 4 assists and 6 and a half rebounds a game. The Nuggets don’t have Gary Harris to deploy against Butler - though Gary would likely struggle with the stronger Butler - and won’t ask Mudiay to do it for the entire game either. That brings in Wilson Chandler, who as Denver’s best all-position defender will likely be tasked with slowing Butler’s assault. Chandler has had a tremendous start to the season with good games on both sides of the court, and he’s averaging 22 points and 8 rebounds over the last four games. He’ll need another good outing tonight if Denver plans to win this game.

Key thing to watch for: Restraint. Emmanuel Mudiay had a good post-game interview stating he was trying to play more in control over the past three games:

"I’m not trying to make the home run play, I’m just trying to make the easy, simple play," he said. "We said we wanted to play fast; I think early on I was playing too fast, even for myself. I figured out if I don’t have anybody in transition just bring it back out or if I see something I can take it myself."

The young Nuggets are going to have to avoid being starry-eyed in this matchup. Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have a lot of All-Star appearances and some championship rings between them, but Denver’s guards will have to play within the flow of the offense and hit the right shots instead of trying to do too much. Jamal Murray got all those points in rhythm last game. There will need to be a lot of trust rather than isolation and hero-ball for Denver to have a shot.

Addendum: do the simple things. This is going to sound like coach-speak, but the Nuggets need to not beat themselves. Box out, get to the rack, and make free throws. After missing 17 free throws against the Utah Jazz and blowing in-bounds plays in multiple games, the Nuggets need to do what they SHOULD do against a Bulls team that is playing ferocious basketball and not try to score the elusive 5-point plays or get 3 rebounds on one possession. Keep it simple, stupid.

Prediction: I was going to give this to the Bulls, but their nine-game losing streak at The Can and a long road trip makes me optimistic for the home team. This is one of those games where the Nuggets can prove those late-game heartbreakers over the first month of the season were learning experiences on how to close out a talented team. Call it 105-100 Denver - if the Nuggets make free throws, that is.