The Denver Nuggets looked strong in their preseason meeting redux against the Chicago Bulls, winning 116-102. The starters played halfway into the third quarter, and Jamal Murray looked ready for the regular season with 21 points on 11 shots, with 10 free throw attempts and 5 assists. Nikola Jokic put up 15 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists of his own, while Aaron Gordon added 13 points for the starters, but the standout again was Julian Strawther for Denver. Strawther had 23 points on 15 shots and was +12 in the game with both starters and reserves. His spot in the early rotation seems assured. For the Bulls, Pat Williams and Coby White each had 20 points and Andre Drummond came up a point short of a double-double in 22 minutes.

Before the game the Nuggets held a moment of silence for Brendan Malone, the legendary and long-time member of the NBA coaching ranks but more personally, the father of Nuggets coach Michael Malone.


The Nuggets started off the game a little slow, getting down 8-5 with a couple of missed and a turnover before the Murray-to-Jokic game kicked in. A Jokic basket and a Jokic lob to Aaron Gordon with a Murray hockey assist got Denver’s offense back on track. The Nuggets had a coulpe of really nice, high-effort defensive possessions and retook the lead on 3 Murray free-throws caused by former teammate Torrey Craig to make it 14-11 Denver. Chicago was letting it fly from 3 early with moderate success, but still held a 19-16 lead after and 8-2 run when Aaron Gordon drove the hoop from the corner with the ball for a score. Then Julian Strawther got this block and the really crowd got into it.

Jokic had a great pass to Peyton Watson for a dunk and Denver’s defense picked up, but some of their attempts to push the pace didn’t work out. Jalen Pickett had a great dig on Torrey Craig but Craig made the shot over Hunter Tyson anyway. The bench hustle and confidence with each other looked stronger than in the last game as Denver closed out the first with a one-point lead, 25-24.

Pickett opened the second quarter with a floater, but gave up a three to Jevon Carter in return. The ball movement was much better than last game for this unit though, creating a clean cut for Strawther. The Nuggets started to string buckets and stops together a couple minutes in. Zeke Nnaji had a great block and Pickett hit a 16 foot step-back. Another Nnaji defensive play led to a transition three for Hynter Tyson and a 34-28 lead for Denver.

Another three from Strawther extended the lead, and Hunter Tyson had some words with Torrey Craig in the next Nuggets offensive possession to get a double tech. Watson had a great drive to make it 39-30, and after a Chicago bucket Strawther showed he stayed red-hot this preseason with another 3 before Jamal Murray came back in.

Jokic hit a three to get to double-figures on the night, and then Murray stuffed Chicago’s Terry to force a jump ball. Denver’s starters looked good and motivated going into halftime, with the teams continuing to talk to one another in ways you would normally reserve for regular season confrontations. Murray got to 10 on a nice drove to the hoop to make it 49-40 Denver, Gordon had a nice dunk off a Jokic assist, and Murray’s transition bucket-and-a-foul took Denver into halftime with a 59-50 lead despite a late push from Chicago. Murray had 18 first half points, Strawthr and Jokic had 10 apiece.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opened the third quarter with a pair of threes, as Murray came out with his left wrist and thumb taped but took the court with the other starters as normal. Aaron Gordon had a great traditional 3-point play, and KCP’s steal led to a Murray finish and a 72-57 lead. The Nuggets starters came out at the halfway mark of the quarter with a double-digit lead.

Pickett orchestrated a play to Strawther for a 3 point play on a drive to make it 83-69, but there were some rough plays with Sanogo for Chicago getting inside on Denver’s defense and blocking Strawther on the other end. Ayo Dosunmu made a couple of full-speed drives for the Bulls, but Pickett answered with a three and Denver closed the quarter up 87-77.

Julian Strawther continued to bomb away with a pair of made threes in the early minutes, and Hunter Tyson got a dunk on a bit of a broken play, then a three of his own to make it 101-85 Denver with 7 minutes to go. Denver kept moving the ball and taking 3s down the stretch, with Hunter Tyson having an impressive steal on one end and Pickett-assisted layup on the other. The Nuggets bench never let it get close, keeping the lead in double-digits til the end and winning the game 116-102.


Jamal Murray really does look like he leveled up as a passer. It was legit in the playoffs but he’s never been that kind of player in the regular season consistently. But his dump-offs and pocket passes are all on target, and he passes guys open now instead of simply passing to open guys. His improved ball-handling only helps, and if he can be healthy all year that extra level should get him all the respect he might feel has been lacking from his past seasons.

The bench rotations are getting clearer. Julian Strawther and Peyton Watson were the first two bench players in the game and look like rotation members at this point. Some things will change when MPJ and Christian Braun are back, but both of them look like they fit well next to starters for a couple of minutes. Pickett looked better as the only point guard on the court (rather than being paired up with Collin Gillespie). Zeke Nnaji had great, impactful minutes tonight on both sides of the ball, and if he can ditch his recent injury luck (or lack thereof) he should get rotation minutes too. The Nuggets will miss Vlatko Cancar, but a healthy and confident Nnaji would be a great replacement. Justin Holiday going scoreless in 18 minutes makes his role and potential rotation with the starters somewhat interesting, however.

Onto Game 4!