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Bulls vs. Nuggets game preview, injury report, lineups: Bulls looking for first Denver win in ten years

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Avoid a Letdown

Milwaukee Bucks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

[Thanks to Paul for today’s preview -yfbb]

Chicago Bulls (9-5) vs. Denver Nuggets (5-8)

Pepsi Center: Denver Colorado

8:00 p.m.

Television Coverage:Comcast Sports-Net Chicago, NBA-TV.

Radio Coverage: WLS-AM 890

Projected Starting Lineups:

Team

Bulls

Nuggets

Head Coach

Fred Hoiberg

Michael Malone

Point Guard

Rajon Rondo

Emmanuel Mudiay

Shooting Guard

Dwyane Wade

Will Barton

Small Forward

Jimmy Butler

Danilo Gallinari

Power Forward

Taj Gibson

Kenneth Faried

Center

Robin Lopez

Jusuf Nurkic

Injury Report:

Chicago Bulls small forward Doug McDermott will likely miss his fifth-straight game tonight with a concussion he sustained Nov. 12 against the Washington Wizards. Backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams continues to miss time because of a bone bruise in his left knee and a sprain in his left wrist.

Nuggets power forward Darrell Arthur is questionable for the game tonight due to swelling in his surgically repaired left knee. Shooting guard Gary Harris suffered a mid-foot sprain and won't play again until mid-December.

Preview:

The Chicago Bulls have started their final West Coast circus trip 3-1 for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season*. Prior to that season, you have to go all the way back to the 1996-1997 season to find a Bulls teams that opened up the first four games of a circus trip with a winning record.

The Bulls are playing good basketball, and they have surprised a lot of people with their 9-5 start to the season. They were about a fourth quarter away from being 10-5 and having an undefeated start to the circus trip, but the Los Angeles Clippers erased a 19-point deficit and outscored the Bulls by 12 in the fourth quarter to earn a 102-95 victory at the Staples Center on Saturday night. The Bulls redeemed themselves in the same building the next night with their 118-110 victory against the Lakers. In the absence of a resting Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler scored 40 points in 40 minutes on 14-23 from the field to will the Bulls to victory on the second night of a back-to-back. This performance, and other Herculean efforts over the past week, earned Butler a Eastern Conference Player of the Week designation.

The Bulls have now won five of their last six games, earning them an eighth-place spot in ESPN's weekly power rankings.

The Bulls continue their circus trip with a date against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, then play the Sixers in Philly on Friday evening to conclude the trip.

The Denver Nuggets are in basketball purgatory. They have a slew of young players who are good, but not good enough to help this team contend this season. Overall, seven players on this team are 22 years old or younger. They also have a number of still-productive veterans, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Jameer Nelson and Kenneth Faried, and the team hasn't yet decided whether or not these players will be part of their long-term plans.

The Nuggets have started the season 5-8. ESPN's Five Thirty Eight gave them a 44 percent chance to make the playoffs in their most recent team-by-team forecast. Even if they make it to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season, does anybody honestly expect them to win a first-round series?

However, even though the Nuggets aren't a contender for an NBA championship this season, that doesn't mean they just let opponents walk all over them without a fight. The Nuggets have put forth competitive efforts in most of their games this season. Two of the Nuggets losses have come in overtime, and they have lost by three or less points two additional times.

The Nuggets beat the Jazz 105-91 in their last game on Sunday. Both the Bulls and the Nuggets go into Tuesday's game with a day of rest under their belts.

*games didn't occur during the traditional November time slot, but the Bulls still played four consecutive games on the West Coast so I'm counting it).

Keys to the Game:

Avoid the Trap (game)

After two emotional games in Los Angeles against the front-running Clippers and the upstart Lakers, the Bull's matchup against the 5-8 Nuggets looks like a classic trap game. However, the Bulls can't afford to look past any opponent because every win is precious as they continue to battle for positioning in a wide open Eastern Conference.

Fortunately, in regards to their approach to this game, it is more about keeping the status quota rather than approaching the game in a drastically different way. The Bulls have been much better this season than in the past at bringing energy to every game regardless of their opponent's record.

The 2016-2017 Bulls consistent energy level is a good sign because this was a team that would go through the motions against bad basketball teams last season and lose as a result. Here is a list of the 2015-2016 Bulls bad losses.

X2 Minnesota Timberwolves (29-53), Phoenix Suns (23-59), X3 New York Knicks (32-50), Brooklyn Nets (21-61), Milwaukee Bucks (33-49), Denver Nuggets (33-49), X2 Orlando Magic (35-47).

The Bulls can't afford to revert back to old habits and stop taking bad teams seriously. Against the Nuggets on Tuesday night, the Bulls need to come out with energy and get off to a really good start like they have done in many of their wins this season.

According to TeamRankings.com, the Bulls have averaged 28.1 points per game in the first quarter which is sixth best in the NBA. The Bulls have outscored opponents by 57 points in first quarters of wins this season, and in eight of their nine wins they have ended the first quarter leading or tied. Conversely, opponents have outscored the Bulls by 34 points in the first quarter of games in which the Bulls ended up losing.

If the Bulls come out with energy, and step on the throat of the Nuggets early on like they have been doing to teams all season, there is no reason why they shouldn't come out of the Mile High City with another win.

Would the Real Bench Mob Please Stand Up?

During the 2010-2011 season, the Bulls bench unit was the second best in the league in terms of efficiency recap difference and the legend of the "bench mob" was born (Efficiency recap difference is the differential between the efficiency of one teams' bench unit vs. its opponent as measured by HoopsStats.com; positive score is good, negative score is bad). Through the help of its creator Stacey King, that term stayed around for a couple seasons before fading into oblivion recently since the Bulls haven't finished above 15th in the NBA in this stat since the 2011-2012 season.

The 2016-2017 Bulls bench unit will have to harness their inner Omer Asik, Kyle KorverRonnie Brewer, C.J Watson or Kurt Thomas if they expect to play well against the Nugget's rock solid bench unit.

According to HoopsStats.com, the Denver Nuggets bench unit is ninth in the NBA in efficiency recap difference and fifth in points per game. Surprisingly, the Nuggets bench has been even better without Kenneth Faried. In the five games since Faried became a starter, the Nugget's bench has a plus 13 efficiency recap differential which is fourth best in the NBA and they have averaged 45 points per game during this time frame which is fifth best in the league.

All of these numbers come in stark contrast to a mediocre Chicago Bulls bench unit. They are 17th in points and 16th in efficiency recap differential with a -0.9 differential. It will be important for the Bulls bench unit to play well because the Nuggets rely on the bench to carry the starters who have an -11.0 efficiency recap differential which is 24th best in the NBA.

This won't be an easy task against a Nuggets bench that has some talented players.

Wilson Chandler, who leads the Nuggets in scoring even though he comes off the bench, is an especially difficult cover.

Outside of Chandler, Will Barton is a double-digit scorer and Jameer Nelson is a capable point guard even at the age of 34. Nikola Jokic has averaged 8.8 points on 49 percent shooting this season. Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis need to play sound defense against Jokic and big man counterpart Juan Hernangomez if the Bulls want to have a chance to slow this unit down.

The Nugget's have relied on their bench to pick up their starters all season. If the Bulls can slow the Nugget's second unit down, they should have a very good chance of winning this game.

Battle of the Windex Men

Tonight's matchup will feature two of the best rebounding teams in the NBA.

Denver leads the league in defensive rebounds at 37.4 per game and checks in at fourth in offensive rebounds at 12.2 per game. The Bulls are the league leaders in offensive rebounds with 14.3 per game.

Offensive rebounds really don't mean much unless a team can convert them into second-chance points. The Nuggets have done just that, averaging 15.5 second chance points per game which is the fourth best mark in the NBA. The Bulls are just ahead of them in this category at 16.6 per game.

If limiting the Nuggets bench is like severing a limb, controlling the boards would be like cutting off the head because this team relies so heavily on its offensive rebounding to help them win games.

A key matchup in this game is the battle of the second unit big men. Jokic and Hernangomez combine to collect 27 percent of the total available rebounds. This could be a problem, especially against a Bulls second unit tandem of Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis who tend to forget to box out sometimes.

After the Marreese Speights nightmare three nights ago, the Bulls second unit guys need to do a better job against physical big men who can also stretch the floor. Jokic and Hernangomez will test Mirotic and Portis tonight.

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Hopefully the Bulls can win this game and continue to ride a wave of momentum going into one of the NBA's most anticipated homecomings of the season: Isaiah Canaan's return to Philly on Friday evening.