By Japheth Bandi
CHICAGO – The Denver Nuggets blew the Chicago Bulls in their own building Sunday night, scoring a 126-103 rout in front of 21,602 fans at the United Center.
The visiting Nuggets won wire-to-wire and led by as many as 28 points, thanks to a sharp 60 percent clip from the field and a healthy 48.1 percent accuracy from 3-point range (13 of 27).
Michael Porter Jr. led all scorers with 31 points, including 15 points in the first half. MPJ connected 11 of 16 field goals and 6 of 9 made fom long distance while logging in 24 minutes of action.
Nikola Jokic had a quiet 8 points and 14 rebounds while fellow All-Star added 23 markers and two assists for Denver. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon combined for 23 points for the Nuggets.
Despite playing its fourth game in seven nights, Denver showed no signs of fatigue and jumped to a 32-20 lead after the first quarter. The Nuggets improved to 9-4, tied with the Portland Trail Blazers for first place in the Western Conference.
Led by veteran facilitator Goran Dragic, who came off the bench, Chicago opened the second frame on a 10-2 run. But that was as close as they would get as Denver took a 15-point advantage into the intermission.
In the first half, the Nuggets shot a crisp 60.5 % from the field in contrast to Chicago’s 46.3%, while also sharing the ball with 21 assists. Jokic picked apart the Bulls defense, tying a career high for a half with 12 assists.
Chicago, on the other hand, only mustered 11 assists total in the half. The reigning two time MVP finished with 8 points and 14 assists on 4 of 4 shooting in 28 minutes.
“Fourteen assists in less than 28 minutes is a joke,” Coach Michael Malone bragged, “Only two turnovers. That’s a 7 to 1 ratio. And that’s what makes him, not just a good player, but a great player.”
Porter Jr. caught fire in the third period scoring 16 points highlighted by a pair of highly contested three point baskets.
“I let him roll pretty much that third quarter because he had it going, I didn’t want to be that guy to put his fire out,” said Coach Malone.
With four minutes left in the quarter, Dragic, who finished with 11 points and 6 dimes, received a technical foul for arguing with a referee.
This served as a symbolic end to the game as Chicago could not make a dent in Denver's lead.
Coming off of three days of rest, Chicago looked flat, allowing 97 Denver points through just three quarters on their home floor.
Both teams’ starters sat for the majority of the final quarter with the game well out of reach.
NBA journeyman Andre Drummond double-doubled with 13 points and 11 boards. He claimed the lone Chicago highlight, when he became the 52nd center in league history to reach 10,000 career points, a feat he reached in the second quarter.
Chicago will take a few days to regroup before heading to New Orleans to challenge the Pelicans on Wednesday. Denver will return home after a week on the road to take on the New York Knicks Wednesday evening.