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Preview: Denver Nuggets face divisional foe in the Minnesota Timberwolves

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KAT vs Big Honey, let’s do this

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are looking to close out December on a high note. While the month got off to a rocky start the Nuggets have managed to win four of thier last six games and now have two games remaining to try to build momentum going into the new year. Luckily for Denver, their final two games of the month aren’t exactly against the top tier of NBA teams. They’ll close the month on Thursday against perennial rebuilders the Philadelphia 76ers and tonight they face the Minnesota Timberwolves who, despite a lot of preseason optimism, have failed to live up to expectations in coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season and sit at 10-21 in the standings.

Minnesota finds themselves in a similar conundrum as Denver, a young team filled budding stars but under performing in terms of where the team is at as far as progression in it’s rebuild. Generally this would be a sign that roster changes are needed but despite a sub-par record the 8th seed in the playoffs is still well within striking distance making any drastic roster changes a major gamble still so early in the season. Working in their favor though is Minnesota by all accounts already has a superstar in the making in young and versatile center Karl Anthony Towns (and by versatile I mean he’s a small forward in a center’s body who also is really good at playing center). To support him the Wolves have talented wing players in Andrew Wiggins and the rapidly rising Zach Lavine, who you might remember from a dunk contest or two. Nonetheless, the Wolves are susceptible to mistakes, and they make them often, meaning despite their talent this game between to young rosters will come down to execution.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (13-18) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (10-21)

When: 7:00PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and Altitude radio AM 950

Rival blog: Canis Hoopus

Position Nuggets Timberwolves Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Ricky Rubio Wolves
SG Gary Harris Zach LaVine Even
SF Danilo Gallinari Andrew Wiggins Even
PF Wilson Chandler Gorgui Deng Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Karl-Anthony Towns Wolves
Bench Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic, Darrell Arthur, Juancho Hernangomez Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica, Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones, Jordan Hill Nuggets
Key matchup: Gary Harris vs Zach LaVine

The low hanging fruit here is to pick the Nikola Jokic/Towns match up, and make no mistake, it’s going to be a good one. However, the Harris/LaVine match up is also incredibly juicy. We all know LaVine can dunk, he’s got the back to back dunk contest titles to prove it, but what you may not have known is he’s also shooting 41.4% from three this year, which sources tell me is pretty darn good. Indeed, LaVine appears to be blossoming into much more than a dunker, he’s becoming an absolute weapon on offense and one that teams have to gameplan for on a nightly basis. Luckily for the Nuggets, he also plays the same position as Denver’s best perimeter defender in Harris. Harris is just the type of two way player that can at least slow down LaVine. We know Gary will play Lavine tough, but the Minnesota two guard is not exactly a defensive stalwart (far from it) so it will be very interesting to see if LaVine will have the energy to defend a pretty good offensive player in Harris while also dealing with his tenacious defense.

Key thing to watch for: Jokic’s silly foul problem

Nobody seems to know what to make of this weird foul issue that Jokic suddenly developed. I stood befuddled in front of my TV on Monday night as I watched Jokic very casually but most certainly intentionally push a player out of bounds for no good reason whilst he stood right in front of a referee. That type of thing can’t happen tonight, not when Towns is the guy on the other side. Coach Michael Malone has made it pretty clear that Jusuf Nurkic ain’t getting minutes, and about six years worth of game film tells us that if you try to have Kenneth Faried guard a center like Towns you’re gonna have a bad time so Jokic must stay out of foul trouble. Beyond just dealing with Towns though, it was never more evident than it was Monday night that the Nuggets need their star center (yeah I said it) on the floor either making plays for himself or others, otherwise they look completely lost and inept. I still have no idea why he continues to make stupid fouls, but the Nuggets need Jokic to knock it off and they need him to do that now.

Opening thought: So much for all that Kris Dunn is better than Jamal Murray talk

I like Dunn, I think he’s going to be a very good player and I too was enamored with him during Summer League, but let’s make something perfectly clear. Right now, Jamal Murray is the better player. Dunn is a good defender, no doubt about that, and he is a good playmaker for his teammates, but his shooting is on the same level as Emmanuel Mudiay’s right now: bad, really bad. However, unlike Mudiay, Dunn is far less adept at getting to the free throw line, meaning he’s even more inefficient scoring the ball. Meanwhile the reigning Western Conference Rookie of the Month has cooled a bit from his end of November scoring outburst but a large portion of that can be attributed to fewer minutes now that Will Barton and Harris are both fully healthy. I’m not saying that Murray is going to be the better prospect of the two (though I do believe that) but he has undoubtedly been the better player so far this season.