Denver Nuggets fall below .500 after loss to Chicago Bulls

Dec 6, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) drives on Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic (9) during the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Monte Morris compared Monday night’s 109-97 loss to the Bulls to the scene from Space Jam when the players lose their talent. For the Nuggets, they’ve been losing their talents at the start of third quarters and opposing teams are starting to exploit that.

“It’s been draining,” Morris said. “It’s like that episode of Space Jam where they just take your talent. We ain’t moving. I’m out there so I feel it. We stop talking and then we pick it back up. It’s weird. We got to get out of that.”

Coach Michael Malone was the only one out there talking to his players. They weren’t communicating amongst themselves, their energy was low and per usual they stopped playing defense out of halftime, allowing the Bulls to score 44 points in the paint. Malone offered to do whatever it took just to see his guys play with some effort but nothing worked.

It was announced prior to the game that the Bulls were going to be without one of their all-stars, DeMar DeRozan, who entered the league’s health and safety protocols. It was uncertain if he had tested positive or not or how long he would be out. They were also without Alex Caruso but the Bulls big three, Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic put up big time performances. LaVine dominated with 32 points, eight assists and six rebounds while Ball and Vucevic both had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Denver struggled to keep up and shot 39 percent from the field and 34 percent from long range. Nikola Jokic led the way with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists, which was not his best game when you compare it to a typical Joker night.

Jokic agreed that he can play better. He went 6 of 17 from the field and 1 of 5 from 3-point range. He missed a couple easy baskets that could’ve shifted the momentum of the game.

“I need to score and especially just to put pressure scoring wise,” Jokic said. “Tonight was not my night. I think I missed a couple of easy ones. It happens. Some nights are good, some nights are bad.”

Coming off of a big win against the Knicks on Saturday, the Nuggets looked like they got into their groove. They took control of the first two quarters and built an 11-point lead. They got a little bit of action from everyone. Morris and Will Barton hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Denver a 15-7 lead to start. Later in the first, Jokic and Aaron Gordon added triples to extend the lead to ten points and closed out the quarter with a 27-18 advantage.

Jokic usually sits out to start the second quarter and when he does sometimes the second unit can hold things down while he gets rest. That wasn’t the case on Monday night. Ball started going off by hitting a few triples and tied it up at 30 points. The Bulls went on a 12-3 run with the Joker on the bench. As soon as Malone put him back in, it was 10 straight points for the Nuggets to regain the lead 47-36. Chicago clamped down on the defensive end in the final three and a half minutes by holding the Nuggets to just one point. Denver still managed to have a 49-46 lead at the half.

Chicago knew that Denver likes to stop playing defense to start the third quarter so it capitalized on that by going on a 7-0 run. Derrick Jones Jr. hit a 3 to tie the game at 49 and Vucevic added a 15-footer to take the 51-49 lead. It was back and fourth midway through the quarter with a few lead changes but the momentum shifted with about four minutes left to go.

LaVine hit a 3-pointer and then made a driving layup to take a 65-61 lead. It may have seemed small but those two plays were significant in sucking the life out of Denver, who played its fourth straight game on the road. Chicago had a 77-71 lead after outscoring Denver 31-22 in the third.

When it rains it pours. The Bulls opened the fourth on a 9-2 run to take a 13-point lead. Denver went flat on the offensive end and struggled getting stops. The Bulls big three continued to get whatever they wanted and combined for 16 points. Their rookie Ayo Dosunmo came up big down the stretch scoring five points and dishing out four assists. He played for 42 minutes and finished the game with 11 points, six rebounds and eight assists.

It was a tough loss for the Nuggets and now they’re 2-2 in their last four games on the road which isn’t bad considering their circumstances. They have three more away games before heading back home to Denver on Saturday night.

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