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Preview: Nuggets square off against Chicago Bulls for the first time this season

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This is shaping up to be a good one!

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets continue their four-game road trip on Monday night with a stop in the Windy City to face old friend Arturss Karnisovas and the Chicago Bulls. This will be the first time the Nuggets former GM has faced his former team since taking the role as Chicago’s executive vice president of basketball operations last April.

During his time with the Bulls, Karnisovas has built the Bulls into a more competitive team then they had been in years past. A lot of that has to do with the growth of first time all-star Zach LaVine, who is averaging a career high 28.7 points per game. The Bulls currently sit at eighth in the Eastern Conference with a 15-17 and LaVine is a massive reason why.

As for the Nuggets, they finally got back on track Saturday night with a 126-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nuggets currently sit at seventh in the Western Conference with a 18-15 record, but are coming off a month a February that saw them go just 6-7 through 13 games.

Denver is going to have to right the ship sooner rather than later and it’s imperative they finish strong before the all-star break begins later this week. With stops still to come in Milwaukee and Indiana on this road trip it makes Monday nights game that much more important.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (18-15) at Chicago Bulls (15-17)

When: 6:00 PM MST

Where: United Center | Chicago, IL

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy... so Altitude TV where available, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival Blog: Blog a Bull

Projected Matchups

Starters

DEN: Jamal Murray, PJ Dozier, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokić

CHI: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Garrett Temple, Patrick Williams, Wendell Carter Jr.

Player availability: Paul Millsap - out (knee), Gary Harris - out (adductor), JaMychal Green - out (shoulder), R.J. Hampton - out (health and safety protocols); Lauri Markkanen - out (shoulder), Chandler Hutchinson - out (personal), Otto Porter Jr. - out (back)

Three Things to watch for

Key matchup: Jamal Murray vs. Zach LaVine

This is a matchup I’m really excited for. Whether they guard each other or not remains to be seen — I think Denver starts Dozier and puts him on LaVine — but still Murray and LaVine have been playing some phenomenal basketball as of late and could produce some massive fireworks on Monday night.

It finally seems like Murray is starting to get healthy and find his grove, which has led to improved play over the last few weeks. As for LaVine, he’s been on a tear all season long and is sure to play a key role in deciding who comes out victorious on Monday night.

I could see both of these guys scoring 30+ points, but the Nuggets have better role players so hopefully that will be enough to give them the edge when it’s all said and done.

Chicago Bulls v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Key point: Can the Nuggets slow down Zach LaVine?

I keep talking about him and why not? LaVine is pretty much Chicago’s entire team. In games where LaVine has played well this season the Bulls usually come out victorious, so the Nuggets are going to have to try and slow him down.

I’m not sure anyone on the starting lineup can do that, but someone on the Nuggets bench like PJ Dozier — who may end up starting — or Facundo Campazzo could certainly make life tougher for the first time all-star. Dozier just returned from a hamstring strain last game against the Thunder and is someone I could see Michael Malone putting on LaVine to try and slow him down.

Let’s just hope it will be enough cause LaVine is really, really good.

Opening thought: Find a way to keep winning

Let’s face it, the first half of the season has not gone how we all expected it to go. The Nuggets have underperformed, but have shown at times to be the team we all thought they could be. With just three games to go before the all-star break, the Nuggets have to find a way to string some wins together.

Not only would it be huge for the teams moral going into the break, but it could definitely give them more confidence going into the second half of the season. Denver already took care of business in their first road game on Saturday night, now it’s time to do the same in Chicago.