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Preview: Nuggets host Timberwolves, but not for tea

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How much bite do these wolves have, anyway?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets just lost a heartbreaker while the Minnesota Timberwolves won a sqeaker. That’s the razor-thin difference between the two teams at this point, and as the two meet tonight they’ll be looking to measure themselves in a division that currently has just one team with a losing record - and that team (the Jazz) has been missing its best player and defensive anchor.

The Timberwolves so far have remained a poor defensive team despite their winning ways, giving up the highest opponent FG% in the league - a startling stat for a Tom-Thibodeau-coached team. Youth makes mistakes, however, and the Wolves have coughed up a ton of easy assists to their foes with the sorts of mental errors Denver will need to capitalize on tonight. Minnesota has a lot of talent, even if Thibs is trying to grind some of it into dust with his usual starter-heavy style: Minnesota has five players averaging more than 33 minutes a game while Denver has one (Gary Harris). That means Denver’s lesser lights or more lightly-used players will have to outshine Minnesota’s best in order to obtain victory and defend the home court.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (16-14) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (18-13)

When: 7:00 pm MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

How to watch: Altitude

Rival blog: Canis Hoopus

Injury Report: Paul Millsap - out (wrist); Emmanuel Mudiay - questionable (ankle); Gary Harris - questionable (elbow); Nemanja Bjelica - doubtful (foot); Jimmy Butler - questionable (back)

Three thoughts

Will Jokic start? And either way, how long will he play? He went 22 minutes in his return against the New Orleans Pelicans and 25 minutes a few days later in Oklahoma City. In both cases he came off the bench, and in both cases the bench players were mostly-positive in plus/minus. The Timberwolves don’t really have a bench, though - they are the fourth-worst team in the league in bench scoring, just above both New Orleans and Oklahoma City. It’s another starter-heavy unit and Karl-Anthony Towns will play a lot of minutes.

30 minutes of Plumlee on Towns may not achieve the desired result for Denver - so how much Jokic can contribute will weigh heavily on the result. Jokic has pressed before in matchups with Towns, one of the only players in the Association that Jokic seems to want to prove himself against rather than simply play his brand of basketball, and that can be good or bad. He’s rarely passive against Minnesota though, and Denver could use an aggressive Jokic tonight even if he’s only 80% healthy.

Can someone stop Jimmy Butler? No one could stop Russell Westbrook when it mattered, and Butler just willed himself to 37 points with a bad back in Minnesota’s last win. The Nuggets can’t afford any more heroics from wing or backcourt players. The assignment might well fall to Torrey Craig, who last week was casually hitting threes in the G League and this week is getting game-saving blocks and defending All Stars in the NBA. Life comes at you fast. With Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic banged up, however, some good defense at key positions is necessary.

Home court luck. The ball just seems to bounce the right way at home for Denver. Will Barton’s drives find the net instead of the iron while Jamal Murray’s threes fall in at a 40% clip on the home hardwood. Denver’s going to need that luck to continue tonight, and the crowd should be loud and enthusiastic again - a great boost for a young team that is so swayed by emotion. The Timberwolves are not necessarily a more talented team than Denver, but they do have the vaunted closer that Denver has not found. Denver’s job is to make sure it’s not a one-possession game at the end, and that’s been much easier at home.

Prediction: A tight game for three and a half quarters but the Nuggets find a way down the stretch. 110-102 Denver.