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Preview: Nuggets look to continue winning ways against Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

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Denver Nuggets Vs. Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Things appear to be going really well for the Denver Nuggets right now.

Winners of seven of their last eight games and sporting the top Net Rating in the NBA over that span, the Nuggets have found a great rhythm around the quartet of Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Will Barton in their starting lineup. They have played 166 minutes together since February 27th, and during that stretch, they put up a 125.2 offensive rating, which is simply historic efficiency.

The Nuggets are humming, and they look to continue their winning ways against the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are 5-5 in their last 10 games and are coming off of their worst loss of the season at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, entering the fourth quarter with a 13-point lead and leaving with a seven-point loss, being outscored 39-19 in the final frame.

The Bulls are angry, and they’re seeing red right now in the loss column. After making a change to their starting lineup to add more veteran stability, the Bulls are hoping to make a big push in the second half. It will be difficult due to their stacked game schedule, which means Denver may or may not get a version of the Bulls that’s willing to compete hard. Denver could get into a dogfight if they aren’t careful. They could also blow out Chicago by halftime and nobody would be shocked.

This game is about the Nuggets proving they’re the better team early and playing like it until the game is decided. That may be an oversimplification, but the Bulls just aren’t very good. If the Nuggets make them believe they are in the game, they will play like it. Zach LaVine is that good and can outgun anyone.

The inverse, of course, is also true. If the Nuggets dictate to the Bulls that this game won’t be close, Chicago may play that way.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (24-16, 11-8 home) vs Chicago Bulls (18-21, 9-7 away)

When: 7:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Travel to Space X, hack a satellite like in Watch Dogs, and reroute the arena feed to your phone. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Blog A Bull

Expected Starting Lineups:

CHI: PG Tomas Satoransky, SG Zach LaVine, SF Patrick Williams, PF Lauri Markkanen, C Thaddeus Young

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SG Will Barton, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Paul Millsap, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Garrett Temple are all OUT.

Three Things to Watch

Size Mismatch

Even though the Chicago Bulls have impressive size at small forward and power forward with Patrick Williams and Lauri Markkanen respectively, they lack for size at the center position by starting the 6’7” Thaddeus Young. Nikola Jokić was excellent against the Bulls the last time these two teams played, and though Jokić saw most of his success occur against Wendell Carter Jr., it would be surprising if Jokić didn’t impose his will in this matchup.

Now, as Nuggets fans saw against the Charlotte Hornets, Jokić imposing his will doesn’t have to mean scoring but simply making the right play every single time. The Bulls are bound to send double teams at Jokić with regularity to help out Young defensively, and the other starters will have to be shot ready. Lately, the entire Nuggets roster has been shot ready, especially Michael Porter Jr., so expect Jokić to dictate how and when the Nuggets score the basketball.

Containing Zach LaVine

The list of guards in NBA history to maintain at least 65% True Shooting on over 30% Usage is limited to just two players: two separate seasons of prime Stephen Curry and the current season Zach LaVine is having right now. The Bulls shooting guard is scoring at an incredible level, averaging 28.4 points and 5.1 assists per game on 53.1% from the field and 44.1% from three-point range. He’s only at 85.8% from the free throw line, so he probably won’t maintain a 50-40-90 season; however, what he’s doing right now is patently absurd and deserves recognition.

The Nuggets did a good job against him last time these two teams matched up. LaVine scored 23 points but needed 20 shots to get there, going 1-of-8 from three point range while bothered by some excellent defense from Jamal Murray for most of the night. LaVine shot 2-of-6 against Murray and 0-of-3 from three while committing two turnovers. The Nuggets will need a similar game plan against the guard flamethrower, and perhaps an extra dose of PJ Dozier or Facundo Campazzo wouldn’t go amiss.

Continuing the offensive onslaught

The Nuggets have the NBA’s top offense over the last eight games spanning before the All-Star break. The entire team is in a great rhythm overall with Denver finding a high level of success against the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets in the last two home games as Jamal Murray has regained form and Michael Porter Jr. looks better than ever. Will Barton is on a four-game streak of 20+ points, and it just seems like the Nuggets are having more success than ever before scoring the basketball.

The Bulls have put together both an average offensive rating and average defensive rating this season, which says to me that they don’t have the ability to reach another level on either end of the floor. There are some lineups they can deploy that will do well, but Denver is well suited to stop those lineups. On the other end, the Bulls are unequipped to handle Denver’s offense while it’s humming. If Denver can reach that level again, look out.