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Preview: Nuggets-Timberwolves, winner takes all

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The two division rivals have identical records going into the final game of the season, and whichever team wins, advances into the playoffs.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve come to what may be the end of a long journey, a journey that started months ago, on a warm night (probably, I don’t remember exactly) when the Nuggets tipped off against the Utah Jazz.

From that game, us Nuggets fans knew this was going to be a special season. The team vaulted out to a big lead, had us all excited about the potential of Jokic and Millsap and a rookie point guard and Gary Harris - and then they blew that lead and lost the game.

81 games have come and gone since that opening loss to the Jazz. We’ve seen the Nuggets lose another inter-division trade (first Portland, now Utah). We’ve seen the Nuggets pull off some remarkable victories (that back-to-back over Golden State). We’ve seen trades (goodbye Mudiay) and scrappy play from guys getting their first shot in the league (hello Torrey Craig).

There was the fight in Phoenix after Will Barton said the entire Suns roster outside of two guys should be in the G League. There was Jokic becoming the fastest European player to get ten triple doubles. There was a really fun stretch where the Nuggets were taking the coolest pregame photos in the league. There were losses to the Hawks, Suns, Grizzlies, and the Kings. There were wins over Cleveland, Toronto, Golden State, and San Antonio.

All those good (Gary Harris against OKC) and bad (the draft) memories can be tucked into the chapter of this season, and we’re all hoping it doesn’t end tonight in Minnesota against the Timberwolves.

If the Nuggets win, they’re in the playoffs. If the Nuggets lose, they’re out of the playoffs. Let’s hope for a win. If not, well, we’ve had quite a time this season.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (46-35) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (46-35)

When: 6:00 PM MDT

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM950

Rival Blog: Canis Hoopus

Projected lineups

Position
Nuggets
Timberwolves
Edge
PG
Jamal Murray
Jeff Teague
Timberwolves
SG
Will Barton
Andrew Wiggins
Nuggets
SF
Wilson Chandler
Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves
PF
Paul Millsap
Taj Gibson
Nuggets
C
Nikola Jokic
Karl-Anthony Towns
Even
Bench
Devin Harris, Gary Harris, Juancho Hernangomez, Torrey Craig, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee
Tyus Jones, Derrick Rose, Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng, Jamal Crawford
Nuggets

Injuries: Tyler Lydon (out - knee); Justin Patton (questionable)

Three things to watch

Can the Nuggets offense click? The Trail Blazers game was ugly for both teams, but Denver managed to grind out a win. Getting into a defensive struggle isn’t their identity, and they need to score more points than their opponent rather than limit their opponent to fewer points.

The Timberwolves are not a good defensive team. Butler is a great defender, but he’s one man. If the Nuggets can get into a game where they’re about to score 120 points, they should be winning and feel comfortable about it.

Can the Nuggets rebound? They need to prevent second chance points like a schoolboy trying to avoid catching cooties. Do not let them happen. Keep Taj Gibson (if he plays) and Karl-Anthony Towns off the offensive glass. Don’t let them reset the offense and try again against a scrambling Nuggets defense. Force a missed shot, get the ball, and get out and play.

If the Nuggets can steal a few offensive rebounds, each one will be critical. Forcing their opponent to defend an intricate offense for more than 40 seconds can be exhausting, and it leads to mistakes, which the Nuggets capitalize on. Let’s get as many points as possible while preventing themselves from losing hope.

Not like this. Nugglife is a real thing, but for one moment, can it not be a thing? I’m not talking about promotional items or the GIF of Rocky falling from the ceiling, I’m talking about getting rid of the feeling that things will always work out in the worst, most painful way.

Please win, Denver. Wear your lucky socks, shoes, pants ... whatever. Try to send good karma to the Nuggets up north.