It was another loss that was a blowout, on this west coast trip, in 2019, and in Denver...all trends for the Chicago Bulls. The Nuggets were able to pull away in the second half to a 40-point margin at one point, eventually finishing the game the victor with a 135-105 score.
Chicago had few, if any, bright spots. Zach LaVine , Kris Dunn , and fellow starter Bobby Portis combined to go 11 of 26 from the field. But at least Lauri Markkanen stood out well. He scored a game high 27 points on 10 of 18 shooting from the field including 5 three-pointers along with 10 rebounds.
This was the first solid offensive performance we have seen from Markkanen in a long time.
Lauri Markkanen with 20 points in the first half, ending a run of 5 straight sub-20 point games.— Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) January 18, 2019
Against Denver, Markkanen showed his offensive versatility and it created some problems for the Nuggets. He was especially aggressive in finding his own shot during the first quarter where he scored 15 points and delayed the blowout for a quarter.
The Bulls are getting into their stuff for Markkanen so much faster than they had in previous games. You can see what a massive difference that makes in the quality of his looks. Huge first quarter for him, 6-of-10 for 15 points.— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 18, 2019
Here Markkanen was wide open at the top of the three-point line to start the sequence. Both Malik Beasley and Paul Millsap both crashed down on Wayne Selden when he took the pass from Markkanen. Lauri acted as a screener, getting just in the way of Beasley to force the help defense to stay. Selden sees Markkanen open and fires a pass to him. Markkanen fakes the swing pass, getting Torrey Craig to bite, and then drives freely into the paint. The duo of Millsap and Jokic crash into the lane to help on the drive and to make sure Markkanen has to work for this basket. Markkanen sees Jokic standing in front of the rim and realizes he won't be able to easily rise up for an easy two points. Instead as soon as he gets to the bottom half of the dotted circle, Markkanen flips up a floater. It goes right over Jokic’s right hand and into the basket. Here Markkanen was able to show his craftiness around the hoop and take advantage of situations where teams drive him off the three-point line.
In this play, Markkanen again initially has the ball near the left elbow. Matched up against Millsap again, Markkanen quickly realizes he won’t be able to get a good shot so he takes the best option which is to pass it back out to Ryan Arcidiacano. After kicking it out, Markkanen goes on the move. He goes and screens Arch’s man in Craig and then moves over to near the right side of the three-point line, one of his favorite spots on the court. Portis plays a big role in this action as well. When Arch first gets the ball, Portis is near Craig and ready to set a screen on him. But it takes a while for Markkanen to slip out of the pick. So to keep Craig guessing, Portis takes a step back inside and makes it seem like it was just a decoy. When Markkanen gets to his spot, Craig sees him and rushes towards him. But then Portis turns around and sets a good screen on him. There’s nobody around Markkanen when he catches and rises up with the ball. A Denver defender rushes in at the last second but he arrives as soon as the ball leaves Markkanen’s hands. It’s nothing but net as the shot splashes through.
These two baskets were part of a run where he scored 10 in a row. Despite the Bulls get absolutely run off the court otherwise, this was a really nice moment from Markkanen. Hopefully this can snap him out of his slump.