The Denver Nuggets are 0-for-2 on this short but brutal three game road trip. Disappointing losses to good teams in the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks have pushed their backs up against a wall early in the season, and that momentum from their 9-1 start has evaporated. The Nuggets are in need of a statement win, and they’ll have that opportunity against the Timberwolves tonight in Minnesota.
The fate of the Nuggets and the Timberwolves are seemingly intertwined. Last season, frozen hell and NuggLife were pitted against one another in the final game of the season, with the final playoff spot on the line. We all remember how that went down. Frozen Hell thawed, and the Wolves finally ended their playoff draught. The two teams will likely fight for another playoff spot this year, and are scheduled to meet for the final game of the season once again.
While the Wolves got off to a slow start on the court because of the drama plaguing them off of it, they’ve turned things around since dealing Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Nuggets (10-7) and the Wolves (7-10), possess inverted records, but while the former is trending down, the latter seems to finally have their feet underneath them.
It’s early, but this is a big game for both teams.
Who: Denver Nuggets (10-7) at Minnesota Timberwolves (7-10)
When: 6:00 PM MT
Where: Target Center • Minneapolis, MN
How to watch: Altitude 2, NBA League Pass
Rival Blog: Canis Hoopus
Three things to watch:
Nikola Jokic returns to the scene of the crime - The final game of the season provided ammunition for both the pro and anti-Jokic crowd in the second half. Jokic, who is often criticized for not being an assertive scorer or dominant presence in high leverage situations, put on an All-World display in the third. He dropped 17 points on 7-7 from the field, adding his usual steady diet of rebounds and assists. He was the best player on the court in that game and in the third quarter he looked like one of the best players in the world. Of course the anti-Jokic crowd won’t remember that. They’ll remember the final possession of the fourth quarter and overtime, in which Taj Gibson bullied Jokic and ripped Denver’s playoff hopes away from them. If the Nuggets are to get a statement win tonight, there’s no better way to do it than to ride a statement performance from The Joker. Will Denver’s best player dominate?
The point of attack - the resurgence of Derrick Rose is on the shortlist of most surprising observations to start the season. On 30.2 minutes per game, Rose has matched his career average in points per game at 18.9, while pouring in 47.3 percent of his 3-point attempts, which would be a career high. While Rose has improved his shooting and seen his athleticism decline over the years, he still gets the lion’s share of his points inside the perimeter, baffling opposing defense with his nightcrawler-esque elusiveness. This could be a nightmare matchup for Jamal Murray, who has struggled to keep opposing guards in front of him all season long. One-on-one blow-by’s have hurt the Nuggets time and time again. Rose should be licking his chops.
Fourth quarter execution - The Nuggets haven’t been blown out all season long. That’s been a source of the frustration during their 1-6 tail slide—they’ve been in each and every one of these games, regardless of opponent or arena, but they haven’t been able to execute down the stretch and secure the win. We’ve seen their free flowing offense come to life in the last handful of games. Even in the losses, we’ve seen stretches of the gorgeous offensive basketball we all expected to see this season. But that style of play disappears in the fourth quarter. Denver won’t win this game if they tense up down the stretch. They need this win, which means they need to stay loose and stay true to their offensive identity when it matters most.