At 15-17, the Chicago Bulls are fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But that’s not their sole motivation going into Monday night’s matchup against MVP-candidate Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
Bulls’ Vice President of Basketball Operations, Arturas Karnisovas, asked the team to win this one for him. You’ll no doubt remember that his last stop prior to Chicago was Denver, where he served as the Nuggets’ general manager.
Karnisovas was hired by the Bulls last April after having spent seven years in the Denver front office under team president Tim Connelly.
Carter Jr.: ‘He’s Definitely Excited’
Center Wendell Carter Jr. told reporters (via NBC Sports) on Monday afternoon that Karnisovas began stressing the upcoming matchup once the Bulls found out their Sunday night game against Toronto was postponed:
He’s definitely excited. Once we figured out our game was canceled in Tampa, he was there in the film session. He told us, ‘Our game is postponed. Now you get some more time to rest. I need y’all to win this game for me.’
Carter told reporters it was the Bulls’ plan to do just that: “We just gotta go out and get the W for him tonight.”
He and the rest of Chicago’s young team feel inclined to do so because of how Karnisovas has approached his first year with the team. He’s earned their respect by not only leading but being present:
He’s always in here when I’m working out, giving me tips on what he thinks I can do better. He’s very hands on, and I can respect that about him.
It doesn’t stop there.
No, it seems that Arturas is seemingly always around the Advocate Center, the Bulls’ practice facility:
In practices, he’s on the sidelines. So right after practice or right before practice, I see players, including myself, talking to him just seeing how he’s feeling. And not necessarily always talking about basketball. Just checking in on one another and things like that. he’s a great people person, and I really appreciate him.
Jokic Matchup a Difficult One for Carter Jr.
Wendell Carter Jr. in particular will have his hands full against Denver, matched up with Nikola Jokic. Carter Jr. is the Bulls’ best defensive big man, but Jokic is having an MVP-caliber year, averaging 27.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists. He is also shooting 56.9% from the field and 41.7% from the 3-point line.
Carter Jr. has been back on the floor for the Bulls for the past two weeks after missing 11 games with a quad contusion. He has averaged 12.6 points and 7.0 rebounds since coming back.
But if his response and praise are indicative of how the rest of this roster feels about Arturas, expect the team to come out and play hard for the executive on Monday night. They’re matched up against a tough opponent in his former team the Denver Nuggets but have proven before that they can rise to the occasion when focused.