The red hot Bulls looked to win their fifth straight game on Tuesday night at home against the Denver Nuggets. After blowing out the Eastern Conference’s top team on Saturday night, the Bulls were in a great position to beat the 26-33 Nuggets, who currently sit in the eighth seed in the Western Conference standings.
This game was a tale of two halves.
The Bulls arguably played their best half of basketball all season, in the first half of this game. Though the score at half might not have necessarily reflected that, the Bulls played fluidly as one unit. The ball was moving flawlessly on offense and the defense was sound and strong. Each player was making the extra pass on offense, putting their teammates in the position for a wide open high percentage shot. The Bulls had to put a huge emphasis on defense in this game as well, as the Nuggets are 4th in the league in points per game (110.8) and 6th overall in team three point percentage (.371). Chicago controlled the pace in the first half and went into locker room at the half up 59-56.
The second half was a completely different story. Everything well the Bulls did in the first half, they did the opposite in the second. The offense turned from an efficient team effort, to one-on-one basketball. The great passing ended, and the offense turned stagnant. The defense didn’t fair well either in the second half. The strong willed defense, turned into a lazy lackluster effort. The Bulls would end up being outscored 69-48 in the second half and would be blown out of the game 125-107.
The only bright spots in this contest were Rajon Rondo and Cristiano Felicio. Rondo was the most consistent offensive player for the Bulls. He tallied up 19 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals. In arguably his best game since being reinserted into the lineup, Rondo has shown that he can still compete in the NBA at a high level, and when he is on his game, he can be a dominant point guard in the league. As the Bulls continue to figure out their new rotation with the additions of Payne, Lauvergne, and Morrow, as well as the injury troubles of Michael Carter-Williams, look for Rondo to play significantly more minutes as the season progresses. Felicio continues to be impressive with the minutes he has gotten on the floor. With open room in the rotation with the departure of Gibson, Felicio has averaged over 18 minutes per game in the last 10 games. Felicio is a high energy, high motor guy who brings a lot to the Bulls when he plays. He runs well up and down the floor, and rebounds aggressively on the offensive and defensive end. He also has great hands and can finish at the rim. At only 24 years old, his progression has been one positive note for the Bulls this season. As a fan I am excited to see what he can offer for the Bulls in the remaining 22 games this season.
Butler, in one of his most poor offensive performances of the season, was a non-factor in this game. In 35 minutes Jimmy had 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists and shot horribly from the field. Butler has struggled since coming back from the All-Star break, as he is now 18-53 from the field in the last three games. For the Bulls to have any chance for success in the rest of season, Jimmy needs to find a way to get out of this funk and produce like he did before the break.
Nikola Jokic, the 22 year old Serbian was a nightmare for the Bulls last night. The big 6’ 10’’ center recorded his third triple double of the season. His emergence as one of the top centers in the league has carried the Nuggets all year. This guy can do everything on the floor. Not only is he a beast in the paint, but he can extend all the way out to the three point line and shoot with consistency. He also has great handles and a superb passing ability for his size. Jokic is definitely the next big superstar in the league, I would keep an eye on him as he continues to get better with his time in the NBA.
The Bulls, now 30-30, are back at .500 and sit in the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls welcome Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors to the United Center on Thursday night, which is surely going to be a great test for Chicago to see where they measure up against the league’s best team. Hopefully the Bulls can put a full game together and sneak out with a huge win.