The Bulls finishing a tough West Coast road trip in the altitude of the Mile High City against a terrific Nuggets squad wasn’t bound to be pretty, especially without Wendell Carter Jr., but they were actually fun and competitive for a little over a quarter thanks to the sweet shooting of Lauri Markkanen and some contributions from the bench. But things got ugly soon enough, and the result was a 135-105 shellacking to give the Bulls an 0-5 trip, a nine-game losing streak and a 10-35 record as they head back home.
It looked like the Nuggets were going to run away early when they went up 21-11 midway through the first quarter, but then Markkanen caught fire to bring the Bulls back. The Bulls did well to free Markkanen for open looks, and the Finnish big man made the Nuggets pay for some sleepy defense by knocking down said open looks. He poured in 15 of his game-high 27 points in the opening frame, with trade candidates Jabari Parker and Robin Lopez combining for nine points off the bench. The Bulls even led 30-28 after the first quarter!
From there it was all Nuggets.
The home team outscored the Bulls 33-17 in the second quarter to take a 14-point lead into the break, and then things turned into a complete joke in the third quarter. The Nuggets put up a whopping 42 points in the quarter thanks to a barrage of nine 3-pointers, with Jamal Murray hitting six of those to score 22 of his team-high 25 points in the quarter. The Bulls’ pathetic defense got carved up by a beautiful Nuggets offense that was moving the ball around and creating open shots at will, and it didn’t help that Chicago kept going under screens to give up open 3-pointers. Maybe change the game plan, Jim!
The fourth quarter was full-blown garbage time, and when the dust settled, the Nuggets shot 52.1 percent overall and 20-of-40 on 3-pointers. That outstanding field goal percentage occurred despite Nikola Jokic going 6-of-18 from the field, with a bunch of missed bunnies leading to that mark. However, Jokic orchestrated the Nuggets’ high-powered offense to perfection with 11 assists. Denver had 34 assists on the evening and all five starters scored in double figures, with seven getting there in all.
Speaking of missed bunnies, this sequence summed up the Bulls’ night:
OoOoF pic.twitter.com/vaXpOBg3EX— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 18, 2019
Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn were absolutely terrible in this one, combining for 14 points on 7-of-22 shooting. LaVine was a game-worst minus-29, while Dunn was right behind him at minus-26. This after LaVine voiced his frustrations about the season and expressed a desire to have input on the Bulls’ summer, and also after Dunn addressed the team about his poor effort in Los Angeles. This wasn’t exactly the way to play after all that as LaVine was noticeably frustrated all night and Dunn was tentative again offensively, though he did have one nice drive and dunk.
If you’re looking for any bright spots, Lopez (17 points on 8-of-10 shooting) and Parker (15 points on 5-of-7 shooting) had nice offensive games as the Bulls showcase them for a hopeful trade, though they were getting mauled on defense like everybody else. Chandler Hutchison (12 points on 6-of-9 shooting) continues to do nice things with cutting and drives and finishes as well.
Also, if you’re looking for a laugh:
Boylen ditched the tie after taking this hit pic.twitter.com/GCcN81kECn— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 18, 2019
The Bulls now return home to play the Heat on Saturday, and the schedule is going to lighten up a bit. Whether you’re a tank person or not, we have to see these guys be more competitive and play better, because 2019 has been a total embarrassment so far.