Nuggets at Timberwolves preview: The chase for eighth?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Once thought to be two playoff contenders, 50-plus games into the 2013-14 season the Nuggets and Timberwolves find themselves drifting farther and farther away from post-season contention.

Game 51: 2013-14 NBA Season
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Indiana Pacers (2006 - Pres)

24-26 (10-15 on road)

Series 2-0 Nuggets

24-28 (14-11 at home)
February 12th, 2014
Target Center - Minneapolis, MN
6:00 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM

Randy Foye
PG Ricky Rubio
Quincy Miller
SG Chase Budinger
Wilson Chandler SF Corey Brewer
Kenneth Faried PF Kevin Love
J.J. Hickson C Ronny Turiaf
Notes
Denver Stiffs Blogs Canis Hoopus
Ty Lawson (ribs) is out, JaVale McGee (leg fracture) is out, Danilo Gallinari (ACL) and Nate Robinson (ACL) are out for the season. Injuries Kevin Martin (thumb) is out, Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is out.
The Nuggets have won 23 of their last 27 meetings against the Wolves. Stat The Wolves are tied for the third-highest scoring team in the NBA, averaging 105.3 ppg.

I guess things could be worse for pro basketball fans in the Rocky Mountain region. We could be Minnesota Timberwolves fans.

Coming off 10 consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance, our Denver Nuggets - now sitting 5.5 games back from the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff seed - appear destined not to make it 11. But oh how spoiled we've been, as the Nuggets' Northwest Division "rivals" - the Timberwolves - appear destined to miss the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, despite assembling a roster with some exciting young talent.

Prior to the 2013-14 NBA season, Nuggets fans rightfully expected their home team to make their 11th straight post-season appearance, but we certainly didn't expect much else. In the wake of departures by head coach George Karl, star swingman Andre Iguodala, key reserve Corey Brewer (now a Timberwolf himself), starting center Kosta Koufos and the ACL injury sustained by star small forward Danilo Gallinari, the assumption around these parts was nothing more than a seventh or eighth palyoff seed.

The Minnesota basketball faithful, conversely, had high hopes for their Timberwolves. Not only was it assumed by Minnesota fans that their beloved Wolves would end a nine-year streak without a playoff appearance, but many Wolves fans thought that this season's Wolves would be akin to last season's Golden State Warriors: a young upstart good enough to not only make the playoffs but do damage when they got there.

With 60% of the 2013-14 season having past for the Nuggets and Timberwolves, some cruel realities are setting in for both teams. For the Nuggets, their new coaching hire of Brian Shaw combined with a myriad of injuries and personnel issues (paging Andre Miller, paging Andre Miller ... ) has them on pace to win just 39 games. 39 games ain't gonna cut it in a conference where 47-48 wins is going to the minimum number just to sneak into an eighth seed.

The Timberwolves, meanwhile, until recently have been relatively healthy by their standards (prior to this season the Timberwolves were setting records as one of the most injured teams in a 10-year span) and have a savvy veteran coach in Rick Adelman manning the bench.

So what gives, T'Wolves fans?

If you can look past the Wolves' talented (when healthy) starting five of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, you'll quickly notice that they have one of the worst benches in the NBA. And you don't have to take my word for it on that, they're literally among the worst: averaging a fourth-worst 25.5 ppg and league-worst 39.1% shooting off the pine.

On the other side of that spectrum sit our Denver Nuggets, who boast the NBA's third-highest scoring bench (39.1 ppg). But most unfortunately, with their starters dropping like flies it's been the Nuggets bench who have had to do more than just perform in a reserve role: they've had to fill in as starters, too. And evident by their sub-.500 record, it appears as though even the Nuggets' mighty bench has finally succumbed to the burden of having to carry the entire team.

Just as the Wolves' starters have been unable to carry their entire team.

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) Quincy Miller: Starting two-guard?! According to the Denver Nuggets' official game notes, the 6'10" skinny / extremely young / extremely inexperienced Miller will start at the shooting guard spot on Wednesday night. Considering the Nuggets should be in full "experimental" mode now anyway, I love this move.

2) Ganging up on Love. Kevin Love might be the best power forward in the NBA, but with the absence of Pekovic the Wolves will be forced to play journeyman Ronny Turiaf at center. This should give the Nuggets' power forward duo of J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried ample room to double Love and keep him off the offensive glass.

3) Slip sliding away ... Currently 5.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, it's hard to imagine the injury-riddled Nuggets making up that gap and contending for a post-season slot. Knowing that, will we see youngsters like Miller, Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton and even Anthony Randolph suddenly get more minutes? It's something we need to keep an eye on.

Scouting the Timberwolves ...

Wolves Non-Stiffs

-Kevin Love: As he waits to become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, Love continues to prove why he should be maxed out when his next contract is up.

-Kevin Martin: The real "K-Mart", before fracturing his left thumb Martin was having one hell of a rebound season since being reunited with head coach Rick Adelman.

-Nikola Pekovic: Ditto for Pekovic who was an absolute beast before hurting his ankle recently.

Wolves Stiffs

-Ricky Rubio: It's hard to call a player as electric as Rubio a "Stiff", but don't let his flashy passes and ball handling distract from his 35.6% field goal shooting and 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

-Alexey Shved: Timofey Mozgov's Russian National Team teammate is "shooting" 32.1% from the field this season, almost single-handedly guaranteeing that the Wolves' bench is the NBA's worst when it comes to field goal percentage.

Final Thought ...

I can't in good conscience write something like " ... if the Nuggets win this game they could get back on track towards the playoffs." When Lawson left the building on Saturday with a broken rib, I'm concerned that the Nuggets playoff chances left with him (the Indiana Pacers' 39-point blowout over Denver on Monday pretty much proved that).

So from this point forward, I'm rooting for improvement from Miller and Fournier and continued good play from Wilson Chandler, Mozgov, Faried and Hickson. Those six - plus Lawson and Gallinari - represent the light at the end of the tunnel for our Denver Nuggets. Unfortunately actually reaching that light might be a full season away.

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