The Denver Nuggets flew to Chicago and beat the Bulls 98-93. Jamal Murray scored 17 points and added five steals. Nikola Jokic put up 15 points, seven rebounds, and five assists on 6/9 from the field. Gary Harris chipped in 18 points, and Will Barton added 13 points and seven assists. It was a good night for Denver’s starting unit to find their rhythm going into the regular season.

Once again, the Nuggets utilized their starting lineup of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic. Denver’s outside shooting proved lethal to begin this game, hitting three early three-pointers in rhythm off of solid sets, inbound passes, and creation. Murray, Harris, and Barton each hit a three, showing the versatility of Denver’s new offensive scheme. Jokic continued to show scoring rust, refusing to attempt some shots and missing two free throws. His finger could still be bothering him. Denver’s defense had good and bad moments, but after settling into a rhythm, Denver grabbed 10 points off of turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game.

Trey Lyles was the first player off of Denver’s bench, legitimizing his claim on Denver’s sixth man position thus far. He came in and ran a pick and roll with newly entered Mason Plumlee, showcasing great touch on a running floater. Malik Beasley soon followed, then Juancho Hernangomez, leaving Murray as the only starter on the floor to end the quarter. Denver’s defense did a great job of getting back into the picture and rotating, and the turnovers generated helped the Nuggets out to a 33-24 lead after one quarter.

The second quarter began with more solid defense from Denver and some more Trey Lyles, who continues to look like a starting caliber player. He added another seven points to begin the second quarter, including one off an impressive pass from Hernangomez in transition.

After the Bulls took a timeout, they came back with more energy, going on a 9-1 run and cutting Denver’s lead to 43-39 through some fluke plays and tough finishes. Still the Nuggets continued to impose their will on Chicago by forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.

Murray finished the first half with five steals, and the perimeter defense was the big story tonight. Denver imposed their will on Chicago defensively and made Zach LaVine’s life hell, who had five turnovers in the first half himself. The Nuggets finished strongly, extending their lead to 57-45 going into halftime.

Denver came out of the half aggressive on both ends but missed on some of the details – struggling to box out being one of them. Denver clearly has the big things down this preseason with the starters accumulating at minimum a plus-nine in the plus-minus department. Despite that, some of the details will drive a coach crazy, and Denver’s offense flowing in and out of focus throughout the third quarter is a concern. Jokic got a couple of three-pointers to drop at the end of the quarter, and the Nuggets continued to lead 81-71 at the end of the third.

The bench unit came in to start the fourth quarter and stayed in for the rest of the game. The shots stopped falling for the bench though, and it became more difficult for the Nuggets to generate positive offense. Malik Beasley in particular had a bad night, finishing 0/8 from the field and zero points. Up until Monte Morris’ points at the free throw line with 2:56 to go, the unit had put up seven points in the quarter, allowing the Bulls to get back into it. Jabari Parker in particular lit up the Nuggets, usually at the expense of Trey Lyles and Juancho Hernangomez defensively.

Still, the Nuggets maintained their composure at the end and did what they had to in order to win 98-93.

What the Stiffs said to watch:

Starting Lineup Chemistry

The starters played roughly 24 minutes altogether and were clearly the better unit than anything the Bulls could throw out there, but there were some concerns about the attention to detail on defense and some chemistry issues on offense. Too often the Nuggets looked stuck after going through initial reads in their offensive sets, leading to some bad isolations from Murray, Barton, and Millsap. Jokic looks off as well, something to watch going forward.

Paul Millsap inefficiency issues

Millsap finished the game 3/7 from the field, 0/2 from the three-point line, and 1/4 from the free throw line. The shooting performances are becoming less of an aberration and more of a trend. It’s going to be interesting to see if he continues to get a similar number of shots in the offense as the other members of the starting lineup or if his shooting range changes.

A dominant offensive performance

It wasn’t quite a dominant performance, but there were stretches where one could see Denver’s firepower ready to show. The bench left their shooting at Staples Center, shooting 1/13 from behind the arc and ultimately finishing very poorly on that end. Still, 23 assists as a team, double-digit scoring from Murray, Harris, Barton, and Jokic, and a more aggressive Joker overall were key indicators that the Nuggets were ready to explode at any given moment.

Another thing that happened:

Perimeter defense turned all the way up

The starters accumulated 12 steals as a unit, with Murray accounting for five of them. Denver’s defense is generally considered a massive weakness going into the season, and it’s almost entirely on a healthy Paul Millsap and internal improvement to get better. Both were at play tonight. They were playing the Bulls though, so let’s temper expectations just a tad.

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We are co-hosting a Denver Nuggets watch party with the Denver Nuggets, Budweiser, Rhein Haus, Super Mascot Rocky, and the Denver Nuggets Dancers. The Nuggets will be in Los Angeles to take on the Los Angeles Clippers and we will be at the Rhein Haus, cheering on the team, giving away tickets, Denver Nuggets merchandise, and enjoying some great drink specials.

The party starts at 7:00. The game starts at 8:30. Come meet fellow Nuggets fans and watch the first game of the season in a fun and lively atmosphere.

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