|November 21st, 2012, 6:00 (MT)|
|Target Center - Minneapolis, Minnesota
|TV Altitude / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan|
|Canis Hoopus||Blogs||You're here!|
|Injuries||Julyan Stone (out), Wilson Chandler (out)
|Stat||The Nuggets improved to 3-5 on the road after winning at Memphis.|
The walking wounded, otherwise known as the Minnesota Timberwolves, are the latest road test for our Denver Nuggets in what seems like a never-ending slew of road games. But with the Nuggets having to play 17 of their first 23 games on the road, it's these types of games the Nuggets have to place in the W column.
And against the Timberwolves, they should. Not only will the Wolves be missing at least five key players tonight, but the Nuggets have dominated their Northwest Division rival lately - winning nine of their last 10 at Minnesota and 19 of their last 21 match ups overall. Moreover, even though it's a road game (read: never a cake walk) the Nuggets have had a full day of rest and are coming off an impressive, confidence-boosting victory at Memphis, one of the NBA's best teams right now.
It's hard to feel bad for a division rival - especially one built by the arrogant David Kahn - but I actually have some sympathy for the Wolves this year. With an exciting young core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams surrounded by some impressive role players in Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Nikola Pekovic, many were thinking playoffs for the 2012-13 Timberwolves. But to date the Wolves have been ravaged by injuries to Rubio, Love, Roy (expected) and Budinger leaving Minnesota fans to wonder: who's the next player to go on the DL?
And despite the many injuries, head coach Rick Adelman has his Wolves sitting at 5-4 after nine games ... not too shabby. Most impressively, Adelman guided the Wolves to a road victory at Brooklyn even though it was the second of a back-to-back and they pulled out a win at Dallas over a week ago, too.
That said, the Wolves haven't faced an opponent of Denver's caliber at home yet and it will be interesting to see how they respond to a deep, rested Nuggets squad tonight that has basically kicked their collective butts for 10 straight games in Minneapolis. But as we learned Monday night when a struggling Nuggets team somehow, some way stole a victory at Memphis, anything can happen in a regular season NBA game. Which is why the Nuggets must "respect the regular season" (as their head coach George Karl likes to remind them) and bring home another road win tonight.
Three things to look for in this game ...
1) Take advantage of the Wolves' weak guard play. Even though the Nuggets won impressively at Memphis on Monday, we're still waiting for starting point guard Ty Lawson to show up. Lawson - who seems to be in a funk ever since he signed a handsome contract extension - should (in theory) thrive tonight against the Wolves' backup-to-the-backup point guard Luke Ridnour. And since I have no idea who the Wolves' starting two-guard Malcolm Lee is, I expect Andre Iguodala to have a big night, as well.
2) The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! There's a reason why Russia returned to international basketball prominence at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London - Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved are really, really good (the Nuggets own Timofey Mozgov played well, too, but he seems to have disappeared this season). And their solid summer play has carried over into the NBA season as its been Kirilenko and Shved who are keeping the injured Wolves afloat in the standings.
3) Are Derrick Williams' struggles over? The second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Williams finally had a decent game in the Wolves' 106-98 loss to the Warriors five days ago. But prior to that, Williams had had a disappointing eight-game run to begin the season, shooting with Gallo-esque percentages nightly (Williams has had games with 3-12 shooting three times and shot 0-10 in a recent loss to the Bulls).
Scouting the Timberwolves
-Andrei Kirilenko: I remember Nuggets' vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri telling me what a good signing Kirilenko was for the Wolves and at the time thinking he was joking. So far, the joke has been on everyone who didn't sign Kirilenko. After taking a full year off from the NBA, Kirilenko is amazingly delivering 14.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.2 bpg and 1.4 spg while shooting 59.7% from the field and 53.3% from three-point range. His only weakness seems to be at the free throw line where he's connecting on just 67.5% of his attempts.
-Nikola Pekovic: The enormous, 6'11", 281-pound Pekovic is currently Minnesota's leading scorer at 15.3 ppg and is expected back tonight after missing two games with a sprained ankle.
-Derrick Williams: Williams should be the perfect small forward complement to the All-Star power forward Kevin Love, but for whatever reason his exceptional college game hasn't translated into a solid NBA game. Shooting a god awful 35.6% from the field so far this season, Williams needs to improve his game quickly if the Wolves are to ever be serious playoff contenders.
-Josh Howard: Long removed from his superb playing days in Dallas, Howard just signed with the Wolves and debuted by making three of 10 shots in a loss to the Warriors.
Last season, the Nuggets got blown out 117-100 at Minnesota in late March and then returned the favor by blowing the Wolves out 131-102 at Minnesota in late April. The point being that even though our Nuggets have dominated the Timberwolves lately, this scrappy, well-coached team can pull out a victory if the Nuggets rest on their laurels.