On the eve of Thanksgiving, Denver Nuggets fans have plenty to be thankful for ...
... a fourth straight victory (the second two coming in tough road environments).
... an eighth win in 11 tries.
... terrific balance.
... the Nuggets are actually starting to make free throws!
During the Altitude pre-game show, Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw said that he isn't playing his players enough minutes for any of them not to play hard when on the floor. And we certainly saw that tonight. From the starters to the bench, just about every Nugget player who participated in Wednesday's affair against the Minnesota Timberwolves played hard and they have the results to prove it: eight players in double figures scoring, 11 steals and a tough road win against a talented Wolves squad that seems to faltering while the Nuggets are ascending in the Western Conference standings.
Unlike the heartbreaking loss at Oklahoma City a week earlier, the Nuggets were able to withstand their opponent's late fourth quarter run and a boisterous opposing home crowd. But thanks to some stingy defense, some awful three-point shots by Wolves' star Kevin Love and aggressive around-the-basket play by the Nuggets' power forward duo of J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets delivered their third road win of this young NBA season.
If there's a common thread among the Nuggets' four straight wins of late it has been their balance. Over these past four wins, the Nuggets have seen at least six players put up double figures in scoring with tonight's win at Minnesota featuring eight contributors in the double-figures category. Moreover, the Nuggets' bench far out-dueled the Wolves' bench by outscoring them 47-10.
And like last season's (regular season) Nuggets, these guys are figuring out ways to win - despite seemingly troublesome momentum shifts late in games. Tonight, regrettably, featured yet another of those momentum shift situations when Minnesota erased a substantive Nuggets' lead late in the fourth quarter and came within a point at 103-102. But just when it seemed like the Nuggets might give away another would-be road victory, Andre Miller pulled off a spot-on Fat Lever impersonation by grabbing a few key rebounds and setting up his power forwards - Hickson and Faried - for success. For all the crap Miller takes here among our readers and elsewhere in Nuggets Nation, we must collectively admit that the Nuggets don't win at Minnesota on Wednesday without Miller's efforts.
Speaking of players the Nuggets needed to pull off Wednesday's victory, look no further than the small guards Ty Lawson and (yes) Nate Robinson. Lawson continues to make his case for All-Star Game consideration by playing solidly from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Meanwhile, Robinson (yes, Robinson!) did what Robinson does best: score in short bursts. When Robinson is on, it seems as though he can turn a five-ish point lead into a double-digit lead almost instantaneously.
Beyond the Nuggets own admirable effort, it must be noted how the Wolves turned a furious comeback into a frustrating loss. Just when the Wolves appeared to have our Nuggets on the ropes at that 103-102 point in the fourth quarter, they gave up three straight dunks (two by Hickson, one by Faried) while Love chucked an ill-advised three point shot and Wolves' center Nikola Pekovic missed a chip shot layup. And the Wolves would later compound their stupidity when Love took yet another ill-advised three pointer a few minutes later. I suppose that's why Minnesota is 8-9 while Denver is 8-6.
Non-Stiff of the Game
-Ty Lawson: Multiple Nuggets probably deserve the Non-Stiff of the Game award, but Lawson stands out for his consistency. The once-so-inconsistent Lawson has become the Nuggets most reliable player of late, and his 8-10 free throw shooting tonight is hopefully just a sign of more reliable free throw shooting to come.
Stiff of the Game
-The Timberwolves Bench: I'm looking at you, Dante Cunningham, J.J. Barea, Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved and Robbie Hummel!! Totally worthless. And while the Nuggets starters logged between 19 and 33 minutes, the Wolves starters all played at least 36 minutes with Love, Corey Brewer and Ricky Rubio playing over 40 minutes apiece. It's no wonder the Wolves comeback sputtered at the end of the fourth quarter while the Nuggets surged.
Looking backward, it's hard to fathom how this Nuggets team was so bad so early to begin the season. Just a month into the 2013-14 campaign, our Denver Nuggets appear to found some semblance of a rhythm - and yet they have much room to improve. But for now, Nuggets fans and the organization itself can enjoy a Thanksgiving that seemed most un-enjoyable just a few weeks ago.
Happy Thanksgiving my fellow Stiffs!!