The Denver Nuggets will take on the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night looking to earn back some mojo after a tough loss on Tuesday. The Golden State Warriors came to town and flexed their muscles a bit, making impossible shots in an attempt to flat out demoralize the Nuggets. Tonight, we will see if it worked.

Denver will go from facing undoubtedly the best team in the NBA to quite possibly the worst one. The Chicago Bulls are flat out awful, having fired their initial coach Fred Hoiberg back in early December. The Bulls dealt with injury issues, but Hoiberg was ineffective as the franchise pulled the plug after a 5-19 start. Things have not improved under Jim Boylen, as the Bulls, with a largely healthier roster, have gone 5-15 in the games since Hoiberg’s departure. Jabari Parker has been in and out of the rotation – you know, the guy they gave a two year, $40 million contract this past summer (the second year is non-guaranteed). The Bulls do have some nice pieces though. Lauri Markannen, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn each have solid traits that are valuable for Chicago. That trio can definitely be pesky, while some of the bench players have given Denver issues in the past.

For the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic needs to get back on track. The Joker had 17 points and 8 assists in his 23 minutes against the Warriors, but just 4 rebounds were uncharacteristic of him. This is a matchup against a rookie in Wendell Carter Jr. that Jokic can dominate from the get go, and if he does, Denver will be in position to blow out Chicago and recover their mojo.

The Basics

Who: Chicago Bulls (10-34) at Denver Nuggets (29-14)

When: 7:00 PM MT

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

How to watch: Altitude

Rival blog: Blog a Bull

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Injury Report: Gary Harris is questionable with a hamstring injury, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he played. Thomas, Porter Jr., and Vanderbilt are of course out. Meanwhile, Wendell Carter Jr. is day-to-day with a thumb injury

Three things to watch:

Malik Beasley vs Zach LaVine

Since being inactive for a stretch of games, LaVine has been on a tear, averaging 21.7 points on just over 16 shots, including shooting 44.7% from behind the arc in his last 10 games. His efficiency as a scorer lately has been undeniable, even though his other counting stats are down while playing next to Kris Dunn. Beasley has been extremely efficient in HIS last 10 games as well, averaging 14.3 points on 51.4% from the field and 47.0% from behind the arc. Both have been efficient scorers, and I expect both to continue shooting well. If Beasley can outshoot LaVine though, Denver has an excellent chance in this one.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray staying the course

Much like Beasley, Jokic and Murray have been hotter than a flaming inferno over the past 10 games. 25.8 points for Jokic and 20.9 points for Murray during that stretch have shown exactly what Denver’s bread and butter is with Harris and Barton in and out of the lineup. Jokic and Murray represent Denver’s future well, and with those two firing on all cylinders, it’s hard to beat Denver. As long as they continue to provide this insane production, Denver will have the leg up.

Will the defense recover?

It’s officially time to worry about Denver’s defense. Over the first 21 games, Denver had the third best Defensive Rating in the NBA. Over the last 22 games, that has flipped entirely on its head.

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There are a lot of components to Denver’s defensive recession over the second quarter of the NBA season, many that I will elaborate on further at another time. The main takeaway though: Denver misses Gary Harris, their best and most disciplined perimeter defender. Torrey Craig has not had the far reaching impact defensively that coach Michael Malone likely hoped, even if Craig’s individual performance has been solid. The rest of Denver’s defenders, most notably Jamal Murray and Mason Plumlee, have regressed defensively in the last 20+ games.

Can Denver recover? There’s no better team to recover defensively against than the Chicago Bulls. If the Nuggets give up greater than a 105 Defensive Rating tonight, there should be some cause for concern. The Bulls, despite some talented individuals, use an offense developed from the stone ages of basketball. At home, after being demolished by the Warriors, here’s hoping that Denver comes out with something to prove tonight.