The Denver Nuggets play host to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the second time already this season, hoping to avoid a repeat of the first meeting. In Denver's home opener, Minnesota waxed Denver 95-78 behind 28 points and 14 rebounds from Karl-Anthony Towns. Denver just lost a similar game to the Orlando Magic to open this most recent homestand with an 85-74 dud that could have been a total blowout for Orlando if the Magic had managed to go more than 1-for-16 from distance. Some things haven't changed for the better since October.
Minnesota meanwhile is coming off an overtime win against the Lakers that ended a 4-game losing skid. Kevin Martin exploded for 37 while Towns had another monster game with 26 points and 14 boards, but defense was nowhere in evidence as the Lakers put up 122 points in defeat. Both the Timberwolves and the Nuggets are looking for wins and consistency, items that have been tough to come by over the first quarter of the season.
|SF||Kevin Martin||Danilo Gallinari||Nuggets|
|PF||Kevin Garnett||Kenneth Faried||Nuggets
|C||Karl-Anthony Towns||Joffrey Lauvergne||Timberwolves|
Tayshaun Prince, Gorgui Deng,
Zach LaVine, Nemanja Bjilica, Andre Miller
Jameer Nelson, Darrell Arthur,
Will Barton, Nikola Jokic, Randy Foye
1) The Nuggets need to find a way to stop a big man from destroying them. Nikola Vucevic put up 15 points and 13 rebounds to lead the late-game charge for Orlando and tack another loss onto Denver's record. Towns has already demolished the Nuggets once this year and is getting his minutes back over 30 again after a rough patch to end November that wound up with him getting more limited court time. This is where Denver misses Jusuf Nurkic the most, as he is the only player on the team capable of showing a consistent interior presence and protecting both the paint and the rim. Lauvergne is willing but not big enough, and Jokic hasn't figured out how to deter paint assaults yet (and isn't really being given the time to work at that skill on the court). Faried is good for some blocks but can't face-up anybody and Arthur doesn't have the bulk to defend 5s inside. Without Nurkic's skillset available the Nuggets simply must find a way to slow down the parade to the rim and the easy shots for opposing big men. If a team is going to beat you with outside shooting, then that's just the way it goes - don't let them get a layup line going too. Box out, defend as a team, and foul bigs rather than letting them get easy layups. At least make them work for their points.
2) Finding a third scorer is a must. If Gallo and Barton don't have good games the Nuggets don't win. It's just that simple. In Denver's last four wins, those two have been the top scorers for Denver every time. With the list of sprains, bruises, concussions and back injuries Denver players have sustained it's no wonder that the consistency hasn't been there, but with Gary Harris finally declared as game-ready again after his concussion, perhaps it's finally time to get some more scoring from the backcourt. The Nuggets have become notorious for giving two or three quarters' worth of effort when four is needed to win, but if Nurkic is the only player (other than Chandler, of course) that can't get on the court then perhaps a third or fourth scorer will appear and make it easier to get 48 minutes of effort towards a win.
3) Mudiay needs to get back on the court in the fourth quarter. As Nate Timmons detailed, Emmanuel has barely sniffed the court in the last six minutes of any of the last three contests. 1:41 of a possible 18 minutes is no way to learn. Mudiay's turnover-to-assist ratio has fallen over the last half-dozen games as his game has gotten brick-ish and timid. He needs confidence to affect the game positively; unfortunately with his shot in shambles and his team a wreck of injuries and inept shooting that confidence has waned and Michael Malone has turned instead to the veteran presence of Nelson. Jameer's shot may be affected by his hand injury, but he hasn't been able to score or direct an offense down the stretch either, so the job is Mudiay's to take back. Leading the team up the floor with pace and aggressively attacking the defense without jump-passing into turnovers would be a good way to get Malone to insert him when the game is actually on the line. Watching teams sag off of Mudiay and Faried makes it nearly impossible to run an effective offense with neither man shooting well. I would settle for Mudiay setting up the offense for success in the way the Rubio or Rondo were known for. Facilitate right now, young man, and let the shots come later. He really needs a good all-around game to get his confidence back, and doing it against a team he's already seen would be a good way to start.
Prediction: Timberwolves 98, Nuggets 90. The Nuggets refuse to take advantage of the home court, and in fact seem to be the ones who get exhausted in the 4th quarter. I expect the same result tonight: three quarters of effort, one quarter of watching the visitors take control in a building that used to be a terror for the opposition. That's another problem that needs a solution, fast.