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The Chicago Bulls drop their third-straight game in Saturday night’s 123-101 loss against the NBA Champion Denver Nuggets. They fall to 2-5 on the young season.
On the second night of a home-away back-to-back, going into the Champs house, in altitude, this was probably a schedule loss. But the way it happened was quite discouraging.
Here are my takeaways from the game.
Zach LaVine’s struggles continue
Aside from his 51-point game against the Pistons, LaVine has been wholly inefficient and that trend continued Saturday. His 48.3 effective field goal percentage is the worst since the year he returned from his ACL injury.
LaVine scored 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting with four assists, three turnovers and tied for a team-worst -27.
His poor shot selection, low effort on defense and inability/unwillingness to fit into the team structure and help create easier offense for the group at large stood out in this game more than any other in recent memory.
This play stands out: attacking one-on-four with no plan, turning it over and then jogging back on defense only to see the Nuggets extend their lead to 16 with a triple.
As the highest paid player and best offensive weapon the Bulls have, he can’t afford to have games like this. And he needs to be the one that leads the charge in turning this thing around before it really begins to spiral.
Nikola Jokic is good at basketball
Nikola Jokic finished +33, and every time he touched the ball, it felt like the Nuggets got an open shot. He put pressure on the rim and his buddy Nikola Vucevic in the basket on multiple occasions in the third quarter to spark the Nuggets run.
Jokic seemingly coasted through the first half, but then, in ten third quarter minutes, he scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out three assists, and effectively terminated the Bulls. His ability to get to whatever spot on the court he wants with the touch to softly float the ball into the basket is a remarkable combination.
With Jamal Murray leaving the game in the first half with a hamstring injury, he finished with a cool 28 points, 16 boards and nine assists. Light work.
Protect Alex Caruso
Coming into the game, he was listed as questionable with a shoulder strain and multiple times throughout the course of the game, he seemed to injure it further.
Caruso came down hard after getting fouled on a runout dunk. He stayed in the game despite wincing and holding his arm. A few trips down the court later, Aaron Gordon put a shoulder into his chest leaving Caruso grabbing his arm yet again.
Caruso returned to the game in the third quarter wearing a full compression sleeve on his arm. He played only 4:15 in the second half, and I would be surprised if he didn’t show up on the injury report ahead of Monday’s game.
The Jevon Carter experience
With much of the attention geared towards the power forward battle and starting Torrey Craig over Patrick Williams, the other Bulls free agent acquisition hasn’t gotten much shine. But Jevon Carter had quietly put together some nice games, scoring back-to-back games in double figures against the Pacers and Mavericks, and came out firing on Saturday night.
Carter immediately made his presence felt, putting up a pair of threes to bring the Bulls back to within one point by the end of the first quarter. He was attacking gaps off the dribble, pulling up in the mid-range and even got to the rim for a nifty reverse layup.
Carter played to his reputation, picking opposing guards up full court, cutting the Nuggets’ shot clock in half.
He ended up scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting and accounted for 4 of the Bulls 7 made three pointers.
The Bulls shot 7-of-26 on three pointers. The Nuggets were 16-of-36. They were outscored by 27 points on threes. They have been outscored from deep in every. single. game. this. year.
It’s not all about threes, though they do play a massive role in determining the outcome of these games. Free throws are another indicator — the Bulls lost the free throw battle 16-of-23 to the Nuggets 23-of-30. The key to unlocking both of those types of shots is getting into the paint. The Bulls lost the points in the paint battle 48-46.
The Nuggets are an impossibly hard team to beat, but it’s going to be impossibly hard to beat any team if they can’t win those battles.
Up next: Bulls are back home on Monday to face off against the Utah Jazz
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