The Denver Nuggets faced adversity in the first half but ran away from the Chicago Bulls in the second, taking tonight’s game 123-101. The most important story for the Nuggets is the health of Jamal Murray, who exited the game in the second quarter with what was described as a hamstring strain. Players were slipping on the court on multiple occasions in the first half, which was newly laid after having to replace the NBA In-Season Tournament court from last night, which may have contributed. Nikola Jokic had another Sombor Double with 28 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists, while Michael Porter Jr. had another outstanding game with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. Reggie Jackson stepped up without Murray in the second half to score 16 points and add 3 assists, while Christian Braun continued his own stat-padding with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. For the Bulls, Jevon Carter had 16 points with 4 made threes, and Nikola Vucevic had 19 points on 17 shots, but the Bulls very obviously ran out of gas on their own back-to-back and had no answers for the Jokic-led Nuggets in the second half.

Game Recap

Chicago opened the scoring with a Vucevic push shot in the paint, answered by Jokic under the basket. MPJ buried a corner 3 but missed a couple other deep opportunities, and the Bulls put in a White three for a 10-9 lead with 5 minutes gone in the quarter. Denver answered with a beautiful half-court zig-zag pass from MPJ in the paint to Aaron Gordon at the arc and back inside to Jokic for a layup.

KCP and Torrey Craig exchanged buckets, and Gordon had a nice transition dunk off a Zach LaVine slip and turnover. A couple plays later the Jokic-to-AG-to-Braun connection made it 19-14 Denver. With Denver up 22-16, Jokic sat and DeAndre Jordan came in for the first time this season to combat the rebounding of Andre Drummond. Jamal Murray tweaked his right wrist but stayed in the game, but two three-pointers from Jevon Carter cut Denver’s lead to just one after a botched dunk attempt from Peyton Watson. Denver shot 1-of-8 from the three-point line in the first quarter but still finished it with the slim 23-22 lead.

Peyton Watson missed a three and a layup to start the second quarter, and Jamal Murray came limping out of the game in the first minute and went back to the locker room. Watson got a steal after a Christian Braun layup, and Braun nailed a 3 for a 28-24 Nuggets lead. DeRozan hit a nice turnaround that Reggie Jackson answered with a 3, but Jevon Carter kept raining deep shots on Denver. DeRozan’s deep two was offset by Julian Strawther’s three and a 34-31 Denver lead. DeAndre Jordan got a technical foul during a timeout for arguing with a ref (or throwing a ball), and the Bulls got some transition opportunities and questionable fouls against Denver to take the lead 40-34 over the Nuggets during a 14-3 run. MPJ splashed in a three but missed a paint shot, and Aaron Gordon fouled Alex Caruso in transition trying to block a shot. AG missed a turnaround and a three, but drew free throws to make it 44-42 Chicago. Jokic got fouled for free throws, and hit a three to close the Chicago lead to one after having very few touches in the second quarter, and assisted Reggie Jackson on a fastbreak finish. LaVine’s three in the closing seconds helped Chicago take a 53-51 lead into halftime, though.

Vucevic missed a shot to open the second half and AG got free throws down the other end. MPJ got a block and KCP’s transition 3 capped an 8-0 run to start the quarter for Denver and a 59-53 lead. Reggie Jackson hit another corner 3, then missed the next but MPJ put it back in for a 9 point lead. KCP’s next 3 made it a 14 point lead, and both Jokic and MPJ got to the foul line to keep the lead in double digits. Collin Gillespie came in the game in the bench-PG role with Reggie Jackson taking Murray’s rotation minutes and got his first career bucket, and Denver got multiple steals to keep the pressure on Chicago’s defense in the middle of a 24-6 run. Chicago was unable to make a run back at the Nuggets and Gillespie had a great bounce assist to Christian Braun for an 85-67 lead. Denver outscored Chicago 35-21 in the quarter but a mini-run by Chicago left the Nuggets with an 86-74 lead going into the fourth.

The Bulls made the first bucket but MPJ and Reggie Jackson answered from deep to push the lead back to 16. MPJ hit a drive for a layup to get his 19th point and Reggie kept attacking the bucket, but the Bulls kept hanging around between 12- and 15-points down. Nikola Jokic came back in and scored on a drive for his 26th point, then nailed a baby hook for a 105-90 lead with 5 minutes gone.

Gillespie missed a three, but KCP got a steal and an assist to MPJ for a transition 3. KCP’s fall-away jumper put denver up 116-96 with 3 minutes to go and Denver coasted to the end as the Bulls ran out of energy and the Nuggets ran away with the game 123-101 thanks to a strong second half from both Jokic and MPJ.

Final Thoughts

Murray’s health is paramount. Coach Michael Malone said after last night’s game that Murray was dealing with some lingering issues, including his shins, and was the player he was most concerned about being available tonight against the Bulls. Murray played anyway but this injury could be lingering – or it could be nothing. Hamstrings have a tendency to be long-term issues if not rested enough when the injury first occurs however, so hopefully the Nuggets can give him the time he needs to recover from whatever tweak has happened. And hopefully it really IS just a tweak and not a more serious issue.

Denver has depth. It is young depth, but Reggie Jackson was retained as a veteran point guard against just this sort of situation, and Denver has two more point guards on the roster not to mention Christian Braun who keeps racking up assists. With Jokic playing the de facto Point Center role, the Nuggets don’t need a starting point guard as much as most teams, and even though they will miss Jamal if he does have to be away for a few games, this is a good time in the season to break in the youth and try things in the rotation. Here’s hoping for a quick recovery for Murray, though – he’s such a key to what makes Denver unstoppable.

MPJ answered the bell. When a star like Murray goes down, it doesn’t hurt to have one of the league’s best sharpshooters available to take more shots. It’s not just Porter’s shooting that has impressed this year, however – his defense last night against the Mavericks earned him the DPOG chain, and tonight again he was good in space against the likes of Zach LaVine and Demar DeRozan. He pushed the ball in transition, took open threes and fought his way to the rim. He was scrappy on the boards again as well even if he just had 6 rebounds. If Murray misses any time, the Nuggets will need MPJ to take and make shots but also to do his part to keep their rebounding advantage, push the pace and even move the ball around to open guys. MPJ did this when Jamal first went down from his ACL injury and looked good doing it, and his game has only rounded out since then. Even with a sore ankle, Mike looks ready to step up with whatever the Nuggets need – as he has all season so far.

Congratulations to Collin Gillespie for his first points and assists in the NBA tonight. Reggie Jackson moving to the Murray minutes in the rotation left point guard minutes to fill, and Gillespie did that, even playing next to the starters for the final stretch in the fourth. I’m glad to see all the thankless work he put in to recover from last year’s injury paying off for him.