The Denver Nuggets are in the midst of a defensive renaissance. Over the last 10 games, the team has held opponents to 101.7 points per 100 possessions, the 3rd best mark in the league over that span. Over the last 3 games, the Nuggets have held opponents to just 89.7 points per 100 possessions, the single best mark over that time-frame. The Nuggets are defending as well as they have at any point during the Michael Malone era and it’s coming at a time when the team desperately needed it.
Exactly three weeks ago, the Nuggets dropped the fifth straight road game by double-digits and were allowing opponents to score at will from every spot on the court. Just six days in to the most brutal stretch on the schedule to date, the Nuggets appeared to be headed for the fringes of the western conference playoff standings.
Denver is about to begin one of toughest 3-week stretches of their season. What is par for this stretch? 4-7? pic.twitter.com/F9cdXa264F— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) December 9, 2017
But then something happened. Sparked by Mason Plumlee and G-League call-up Torrey Craig, the Nuggets discovered a defensive identity over the next 10 games that propelled them to an improbable 6-4 record including wins at Portland and at Golden State, two places Denver hadn’t found much success in years. If the record itself doesn’t impress, the way in which the team appears to be coming together certainly should.
Now the team is taking their three-game winning streak to Minneapolis to face the last team to beat the Nuggets and a team that has been equally as impressive over the last 10 games, the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nuggets have an excuse entering this game. Road games on the second night of a back-to-back lower a team’s win probability quite dramatically and with how well the team has played over the last week, no one could hold it against the young Nuggets if they were to lay an egg tonight against their divisional rival. But Denver hasn’t accepted excuses over the last 10 games and tonight is just the latest test of the team’s collective mettle. The team enters the game as a 5.5 point underdog, but that’s exactly where this team seems to be most comfortable.
Who: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves
When: 6:00 PM MT
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
How to watch/Listen: Altitude TV, Altitude Radio 950
Rival Blog: Canis Hoopus
Injury report: Paul Millsap (OUT)
Three things to watch
Divisional Games Matter
Last time I wrote the game preview I called out the Denver Nuggets for not taking their divisional games seriously enough. In addition to divisional games having playoff implications, teams in the division see the Nuggets four times per year. You learn player and team tendencies when you play that frequently and you start to develop small annoyances. This is doubly true for Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns, two players linked together as part of the same rookie class and part of the same “unicorn” class of modern day big men with unique skill sets. Since my critique of the team’s focus during divisional games, the Nuggets have responded by rallying off wins against Portland and Utah. They can make it three straight in the division and climb to within a game of .500 in the Northwest with a revenge win tonight so let’s see if they play with the same edge that they carried into Portland.
The main culprit for Denver’s loss last week to the Timberwolves was a lopsided 4th quarter in which the Timberwolves outscored the Nuggets 32-20. The Wolves’ two biggest stars, Towns and Jimmy Butler each scored 11 points in the final frame to close out the game. I talked on the Locked On Nuggets pocast following that game about how Denver’s pick-and-roll defense struggled in that frame and how the Nuggets tried a couple of different looks to no avail. Tonight the Nuggets will almost certainly face the same challenge. Will they have a trick up their sleave to combat the dynamic duo?
Both the Nuggets and the Timberwolves play big and crash the glass. The Nuggets rank 1st in the league this season in offensive rebound percentage and the Timberwolves rank 5th. Last time these teams matched up, neither team was able to get more than 8 second chance points. Tonight, if either team can tilt that battle in their favor they’ll have the upper hand and likely win the game.