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Bulls hope to show up in clutch moments against Nuggets

Nov 9, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Goran Dragic (7) goes to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans center Willy Hernangomez (9) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

So what if you can’t spell “Chicago Bulls basketball” without C-L-U-T-C-H?

The Bulls realize they’ve spent much of the first three weeks of the season crumbling in crunch time.

Chicago enters Sunday’s visit from the Denver Nuggets as the lone team without a victory in a “clutch” situation, what NBA.com calls a five-point margin with five minutes or less to play. The Bulls are 0-6 in such games, with Wednesday’s 115-111 loss to New Orleans the latest setback.

“These are opportunities for us to get better from and learn from,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “But I can’t sit there and say it’s one thing.”

Chicago’s 25 wins in the clutch last season were tied for third most in the league.

To the Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic, one reason behind the team’s early struggles may be opponents keying on leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, as well as load management for fellow All-Star Zach LaVine, who is coming off knee surgery in the offseason.

“I think a lot of it is execution,” Vucevic said. “Obviously people now know the ball’s gonna go to DeMar, and we just have to do I think a better job in certain situations helping him a little bit, make his life a little easier.

“I think also … some games we have Zach, some games we don’t. So it’s a little different look for us, too. We’re trying to get used to that as well. But that’s part of it. Part of growing as a team and figuring it out. So just have to continue to look at it, get better and learn from it.”

While Chicago has lost three of four, Denver has won four of five, including the first two contests of a four-game road trip that concludes Sunday.

The Nuggets are coming off Friday’s 131-112 loss in Boston. After trailing by 18 points in the first half, Denver rallied to within 87-85 in the third quarter but faded down the stretch after Nikola Jokic (29 points, eight rebounds) fought foul trouble early in the game.

“We can’t wait until the third quarter to try to turn it on because the game will be over at halftime if that’s the case,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Boston outscored Denver 34-21 in the fourth.

“We had opportunities to win the game,” the Nuggets’ Aaron Gordon said, “but the way that we closed quarters and opened quarters was just too much for us to overcome. … We’ve just got to start games with more urgency. Start quarters and close quarters with more efficiency, more urgency and intensity.”

The Nuggets were without reserve point guard Bones Hyland, who warmed up Friday but was placed in the health and safety protocols before the game.

Chicago swept the season series from Denver last season behind solid play from LaVine, who averaged 34 points in the two games, in addition to supplying consistent rebounding. The Bulls had a 105-88 edge on the boards against the Nuggets last season.

Denver leads the all-time series 55-42.

–Field Level Media