The Bulls don’t have a lot to play for other than lottery picks at the moment, but they have still been winning games against fellow cellar-dwelling teams. They have managed to win four of their past nine games, and these have been against the Grizzlies twice, the Hawks, and the Mavericks. These wins have propelled Chicago to the top of the bottom grouping of sides in the Eastern Conference standings. They are in 12th place, with a record of 24-46.
Denver are in a very different situation, and need to get back on the winners’ list if they want to see any playoff action. On the back of a two-game losing streak they have dropped to 38-33, and are in ninth place in the west. The latest loss was a heartbreaking double overtime thriller against the Heat. Nikola Jokic had 34 points and 15 boards in the 141-149 defeat.
Three keys to the game
Nuggets’ away form - The location of the game is a major factor in every Denver game. They have split their last six games 3-3, with the three wins coming at home and the three losses on the road. At home this season, the Nuggets are 27-10, while outside of Denver they are 11-23.
Chicago’s defense - This hasn’t been a strength for the Bulls all season, with their defensive rating of 108.6 the seventh worst in the NBA. In the last five games it is even worse, sitting at 111.4, and against a Denver side which can score quickly and in a plethora of different ways, that could be a problem.
The impact of Gary Harris’ injury - Harris will miss his third game in a row with a knee injury, and so far without him they are 0-2. This isn’t purely because of him, and he isn’t even close to Jokic or probably Murray as their most important player, but he still averages 17.7 points, 3.0 assists, 1.8 steals and hits 40% of his 3-point attempts this season, and is clearly missed in their team.
Matchup to watch
Nikola Jokic vs Cristiano Felicio - Felicio has been moved to the role of starting center in the absence of Robin Lopez, and he will face the enormous task of looking after Jokic on Wednesday. Jokic is one of the most uniquely talented players in the league. He can score inside and on the perimeter, and can pass better than any other player his size in the NBA. He averages 17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and shoots 38.8% from long range this season, stats which demonstrate his diverse array of skills. Very few centers are experienced dealing with players who have this range of talents, and Felicio will struggle to handle the big Serb, who may well end up being the difference between the sides.
Chicago Bulls predicted starting lineup
PG - Justin Holiday | SG - Cameron Payne | SF - Denzel Valentine | PF - Paul Zipser | C - Cristiano Felicio
Denver Nuggets predicted starting lineup
PG - Jamal Murray | SG - Will Barton | SF - Wilson Chandler | PF - Paul Millsap | C - Nikola Jokic
The Nuggets scraped over the line by a single point in the lone game these sides played against one another this season, and it was largely thanks to Barton’s performance off the bench. In 35 minutes, he shot 13-for-19 from the field and 6-for-9 from long range on the way to 37 points. He also dished out three assists and grabbed three steals. He has played nine career games against the Bulls, and been pretty hot in a number of them, shooting at 46.2% from beyond the arc in these matchups.
The over/under points total of 222 in this game is too low. Both sides have well below par defenses, and the Nuggets’ offense in particular will score heavily. This game should easily go over this total.
The Nuggets will be able to earn themselves a victory in what is fast becoming a race against the clock to work their way back into a playoff position. Following this game, they face a four game road trip against teams well above .500, so a win in this one is vital.
Jokic and Murray will combine for 40 points and ten assists, and the Nuggets’ overall offense will be far too much for the young Bulls to handle. Denver will win this one on the road, 121-111.
The game will be broadcast locally on NBCSCH and Altitude. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.