The Denver Nuggets continued their preseason with a game against the Chicago Bulls tonight at the United Center. It ended up being an uneven matchup that favored the Bulls as Denver elected to play their starters only in the first half whereas Chicago’s starting unit played well into the third quarter. It was during that quarter that the Bulls were able to build a big lead that Denver’s deep reserves spent the fourth quarter trying to erase. Some strong play from Colin Gillespie and a furious rally in the fourth punctuated by a Braxton Key buzzer beating tip-in forced the game into overtime. ONe OT wasn’t enough but Denver ran out of gas in the second. The Bulls proved to be too much and ultimately secured the victory. On the bright side for Denver (the starting unit, led by Jamal Murray, once again looked like they are ready to start the season including shooting 70% from the field and Julian Strawther once again looked like a rookie who is ready for regular rotation minutes. Not all bad and the Nuggets will get a chance for revenge on Sunday when the Bulls come to Denver for the Nuggets only home playoff game.

It was Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic with the juice early on. First Murray found Jokic for a bucket, then Jokic got a steal and fed Murray for a bucket. Zach Lavine was up to the task of responding and got Chicago a small early lead (…then hoisted an airball). The Nuggets, like in their first preseason game, were sloppy to start the game, giving up a few quick turnovers. However, their guards kept pace with some threes while the Bulls weren’t exactly sharp themselves. After Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit his second three to give the Nuggets a 13-8 lead Billy Donovan was forced to call timeout. After the TO, Lavine constituted almost all of Chicago’s offense while Demar DeRozan chipped in to get the Bulls a mini 6-2 run. Meanwhile, Murray had a really nice opening quarter, scoring when needed and running the offense the rest of the time, finding guys for open looks. Chicago stayed right with the Nuggets throughout the quarter. Coby White in particular had a nice move that produced a shot to give the Bulls a one point lead with four minutes left which was when the reserves started checking in. The first players off Denver’s bench were Reggie Jackson and Peyton Watson with Julian Strawther not far behind them. Strawther immediately picked up where he left off last game, looking like a veteran Nugget immediately cutting to the basket to receive a Jokic assist. Shout out to Watson as well who was fearless in his matchup against Andre Drummond and forced Dre to miss a bunny more than once. There wasn’t much defense otherwise from either team in the first. Jackson hit a midcourt bank shot at the buzzer which tied the game at 33.

Strawther showed that he was in fact human, missing a couple threes to open the second quarter. Denver was in a full bench lineup and it was clear it’s a group that doesn’t have a lot of minutes together as they struggled to score. The defense was solid though, particularly from Watson and Zeke Nnaji. Denver’s smaller bench unit struggled to contain Drummond on the boards which made up for a couple misses on Chicago’s end and kept them in the lead despite Strawther starting to find his stroke. The starters came back in with Chicago starting to stretch their lead out and Jokic restored some order. As fast paced and strong offensively as the first quarter was, the second was a slog. Neither team had much going in terms of action on the offensive side and the sloppy turnovers continued to be a problem for both teams. DeRozan was the guy doing all the scoring for Chicago and they maintained the five point lead at the halfway point of the quarter. Despite the sloppiness, once the Nuggets got all their starters back in they immediately had a beautiful possession that resulted in a Jokic baby hook in the paint. He followed it up with a three after a Gordon bucket for a 7-0 run to get Denver back in front. Nikola Vucevic got in on the action for Chicago to keep the lead trading back and forth between the two teams. The sloppy play reared it’s head again, the Nuggets racked up 13 turnovers in the half and were tied with Chicago after two quarters.

Like they did in the first preseason game, Denver rested their starters to open the second half (sans Justin Holiday). The bench group was incredibly ineffective opening the second half and honestly were getting just out hustled. They gave up multiple offensive rebounds while also committing multiple fouls and converting almost no buckets. George Karl might have in fact called the first four minutes of the third quarter an insult to the game of basketball. Watson finally gave the Nuggets fans a reprieve from the abomination with a nice break away dunk. Luckily for Denver, Chicago didn’t really take advantage of the abysmal play and only held a four point lead with seven minutes to go in the third. This is probably more of a commentary on the Bulls than anything as they were still playing their starters. Chicago’s group was undoubtedly more consistent though, and were able to stretch the lead to seven points. Outside of Strawther the Nuggets didn’t have much offensive production, meanwhile Alex Caruso started knocking down threes and the Bulls lead quickly got up to double digits. Strawther and Jalen Pickett hit a pair of threes with the quarter winding down but the unit still struggled to string together any sort of runs. Coby White hit a fall away jumper right before the end of the quarter which put Chicago up 89-79.

The fourth quarter started just like the whole third went, with a Denver turnover and a quick bucket on the other end for Chicago. Colin Gillespie was in the game and finally got the Nuggets into a solid play which led to an easy bucket for Braxton Key but Denver was still trailing by a dozen. Denver’s long bench was not any better than the other bench members, at least to start the fourth. Gillespie and Key had back to back foot shuffling traveling violations, Drummond was back to looking like Shaquille O’neal against the bigs and Chicago’s lead kept getting bigger. Gillespie was the one guy who really was playing well in the unit. He sparked a mini-run for the Nuggets to pull the game back within six with about half the quarter to go. He was hustling on defense, knocking down threes and setting up his teammates. To the credit of Denver’s deep bench, they did not give up. Jay Huff knocked down a three with just about three minutes to go to draw within four, but Chicago had an immediate response with a three of their own. That was sort of the theme down the stretch of the fourth. The Nuggets would mount a rally but then the momentum would swing right back in Chicago’s favor, including after a monster dunk from Julian Phillips. Finally Denver was able to get some traction in the final minutes of the quarter. After an Andrew Funk three the Nuggets got it within one setting up some nice crunch time experience for the reserves. The Nuggets got the ball with 15 seconds to go and trailing by one to set up a final play. They ended up getting three chances at it but first Funk took a terrible shot, the Bulls hit a free throw and  Gillespie got fouled on a drive but it didn’t get called. That set up a 0.6 second remaining inbound play which Tyson lobbed in to Key who pulled off the tip play and we were all forced to watch preseason overtime basketball.

The tired legs were evident in the overtime period with a lot of bricks for both teams. Funk continued to have no conscience shooting the ball but it did result in some big three point shots. Denver had a golden chance to put a stranglehold on the game up three with under two minutes to go and the ball. In fact that had back to back possessions in that scenario, but Tyson took a terrible turnaround mid range jumper with 7 seconds on the shot clock on the first possession and then Huff fumbled away the second possession. Carlik Jones immediately went down to the other end and knocked down a three to tie it with a minute to go. Funk and Huff chucked awful threes on the other end and Terry Taylor got the lead for Chicago. Key got fouled on the other end, cashed both free throws to tie and Chicago couldn’t convert their final possession. The game was proof that god is cruel, because we were all headed to double-overtime in the preseason.

The second OT opened with a pair of Nuggets turnovers (one of which was a questionable screening foul) but Chicago only mustered a bucket out of it. Denver was going cold from the floor though which got the Bulls a four point lead and an Adelman timeout. It didn’t help and Quenton Jackson knocked down a three on the other end. Tyson would get a three of his own but later couldn’t buy a bucket when it seemed like he had five chances on one possession. The Tyson three ended up being one of only two field goals the Nuggets made in double OT. Dalen Terry hit another three for Chicago with about a minute to go which was the effective dagger and the Bulls prevailed. Chicago wins 133-124.

The reserves were underwhelming until the fourth

Strawther once again had a solid night scoring for Denver, but he was pretty much the lone bright spot for the reserves outside of the deep bench. Zeke Nnaji couldn’t build off his strong first game and looked a bit lost or frustrated out there. Jackson was overall underwhelming. Watson got baited into too many fouls. Tyson still can’t find his shot. It was just overall very apparent that the starters weren’t in for Denver and there was a clear talent gap. There also was a weakness exposed by Chicago’s bench. In the first half DeAndre Jordan got no minutes despite Chicago being one of the teams with a true 5 off the bench in Andre Drummond. It looked like vintage Dre out there against Nnaji and Denver’s smaller frontcourt. Watson did what he could, as did Zeke but Drummond flat out feasted on the offensive glass (9 OREB). The only thing that saved the Nuggets bacon during his minutes was he must have missed at least five shots within 2′ of the basket. Might not be an issue that comes up all that often but if Jordan isn’t going to get minutes when a true 5 is coming off the bench then the Nuggets will likely get exposed on the offensive glass and in the post. The night was salvaged by the deep reserves. Shout out to Gillespie, Funk, Tyson, Key and Huff. Those guys never gave up even when it wasn’t the prettiest.

Jamal Murray looks like a man on a mission

I can’t talk enough about how strong of a performance ‘Mal had tonight. Gone are the days where Jamal serves mostly as a scorer and Nikola is the de facto point guard. That’s not to say the Nuggets don’t still run their offense through Jokic, but Jamal is setting up Jokic more than ever and vice versa. He just looks like such a complete player. No doubt Jamal’s motivation will be high this season. A nomination to the All NBA team will trigger the supermax extension for him and be very lucrative. Personally, I hope he gets every dollar. Jamal making All NBA will mean he’s taken yet another step in his career, which he looks like he’s ready to do, and that spells doom for the rest of the league.

David Adelman will be a head coach

As coach Michael Malone is away from the team on bereavement leave its been David Adelman who has taken the reigns. Unless the Nuggets completely implode this year I can’t imagine Adelman will be back next season. He should absolutely receive a head coaching offer. Beyond the fact that he’s the man running one of, if not, the best offenses in the league, he just carries himself like a head coach should. He managed the game well, even though he fought an uphill battle with Billy Donovan playing his starters in the second half. Adelman called timeouts when they were needed, mentored guys on the sideline during opponent free throws and otherwise just did all the things you expect the head coach to do. Malone probably can be the coach of Denver until he wants to retire now that he secured the Nuggets first title so Adelman’s shot likely won’t come in Denver but he deserves a shot somewhere and I think he’s going to get it sooner than later.

Bulls moneyline cashes, I’m 2-0

Maybe I should re-think this don’t bet on the preseason thing…