The Nuggets couldn't handle Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on Friday night. So how in the world will they contain Kevin Love, who erupted for 51 points and 14 rebounds - against a good team! - while the Nuggets shamed themselves in Utah?
Denver: 26-22 (11-10 on the road)
Streak: Lost 1
Minnesota: 23-26 (12-12 at home)
Streak: Lost 2
Denver: Rudy Fernandez (back surgery) and Danilo Gallinari (fractured left thumb) are both out. Andre Miller (separated right shoulder) is probable.
Minnesota: Michael Beasley (sprained toe) is day-to-day, Nikola Pekovic (sore ankle) is day-to-day, Ricky Rubio (torn ACL) is out.
Season Series: Nuggets lead 1-0
Opposition's Take: Canis Hoopus
Even though the Nuggets - in theory - possess a sizable lineup, they sure have trouble defending the paint. While Nuggets fans - and Denver Stiffs readers - drooled over JaVale McGee's effort against the Jazz on Friday night (the two blocked shots, active rebounding, at-the-rim presence ... I liked it, too!) the Jazz diced and danced the Nuggets' "D" on their way to a near-60% shooting night, with much of their production coming inside the paint from Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
When the Nuggets face off against the Timberwolves in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon, they'll have to tighten up their interior defense as they will be facing the (arguably) best power forward in the NBA in Kevin Love. On Friday night (while the Nuggets were getting waxed by the Jazz), Love turned in a 51-point, 14-rebound performance against the Western Conference's best team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The fact that the Wolves still lost in spite of Love's amazing game is a testament to how bad they are without Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic.
Since tragically losing dynamic Spanish rookie Rubio a few weeks ago to a season-ending ACL injury, the Wolves have lost six of their last eight games and seem destined to miss the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season. But even in their losses, this team puts up a fight nightly ... as evident by their double overtime thriller at Oklahoma City on Friday.
The same can't be said of our Nuggets right now, who lazily completed a nine-game home stand with five wins against four losses, and turned in another lazy performance at Utah on Friday night. (Worse yet, the Nuggets' recent home stand could just have easily been two wins with seven losses considering how lucky the Nuggets were against the Kings, Hawks and Pistons.) Even with the addition of McGee and the surging confidence of Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets seem to have lost their energy mojo ... having been obliterated twice in their last three games while nearly escaping with a home victory against the lowly Pistons on Wednesday. It's as if the Nugget players are buying into their own bullshit about how deep they are, with each teammate assuming another will pick up the slack on any given night.
There was a time when the Nuggets had "easy" games on their schedule (and in theory, playing a Timberwolves team sans Rubio and Pekovic should be one), but I don't believe any game is easy for this team anymore. Whether it's a hangover from the Danilo Gallinari injury or trouble mixing McGee and Wilson Chandler into the lineup to get a flow, the Nuggets are in an annoying funk as they've now hit the road for seven straight games because the NCAA Women's Final Four invades Pepsi Center at month's end. Prior to the Jazz game, I was confident that the Nuggets were actually better on the road than they are at home and could steal some wins.
Now? Not so sure.
But again, and as has been the case for weeks now during this squirrely lockout-shortened season, the Nuggets are a mere half game out from being a Western Conference fourth-seed while also tied for being on the outside looking in at the playoffs ... and just two games ahead of 10th-seeded Phoenix. The road trip they've embarked on could define where the Nuggets finish in that messy mix of 10 teams fighting over eight post-season slots.
But if the Nuggets' lazy, uninspired play continues, the likes of Kevin Love and others will ensure that the Nuggets aren't one of those eight teams come late April.
SCOUTING THE WOLVES
-Kevin Love: Love has followed up on his breakout third season with an even better fourth season where he ranks fourth in scoring and second in rebounding. By adding Rubio and Rick Adelman as head coach to partner with Love, the Wolves should consistently make the playoffs for years to come (after this one).
-Ricky Rubio: Not only is Rubio's loss a tragedy for Minnesota, but it's a tragedy for the NBA at large and possibly Spain in the 2012 Olympics. Before getting hurt, Rubio 10 points and 8 assists per game, while making the Wolves fun to watch for the first time since Kevin Garnett's departure years ago.
-J.J. Barea: This Nugget pest put up 25 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists against the Thunder on Friday night.
-Darko Milicic: After playing well (finally) last season, Darko has gone back to being Darko this season, with multiple DNP-CDs and below-average numbers across the board.
-Wes Johnson: The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, Johnson can't seem to figure out the NBA game and is having a sophomore slump.
-Anthony Randolph: The 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft (not drafted by the Wolves), Randolph appears destined to never put an NBA-quality game together.
Nuggets head coach George Karl told me that a season comes together based on a team's first 20 games and their last 20 games. Even though the Nuggets play just 66 games this season, we are in the throes of those final 20 games and the Nuggets aren't off to a good start.