The Denver Nuggets will face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight for the second time this season. The Nuggets are coming off a fantastic win against the Houston Rockets, a win that allowed them to once again claim the first spot in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves are coming off an exciting win in which Karl-Anthony Towns hit the buzzer beater to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime on Wednesday night.
A lot has changed since the Nuggets and Wolves played that infamous win-or-go home game at the end of last season, which ended up being the Timberwolves’ ticket to the playoffs and the Nuggets’ ticket home. The Timberwolves have not yet been able to grow into the team that many thought they would with a young superstar in Towns, surrounded by both young and veteran talent such as Andrew Wiggins, Derrick Rose and others. Ever since the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Wolves are 21-17, which is not bad considering how valuable a player Butler is. Still, the Timberwolves have not yet been able to tap into their full potential as the Nuggets have this season.
The previous match-up between these two teams was a close one, with the Nuggets winning 103-101 thanks to a great performance from Paul Millsap. Since then, it’s become obvious that the Nuggets are the better team. While they sit atop the Western Conference currently, the Timberwolves are in the same place they were last year - fighting for a playoff spot.
Who: Denver Nuggets (36-15) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-26)
When: 7:00 p.m. MST
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
How to watch/listen: Altitude, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW app and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM.
Rival Blog: Canis Hoopus
Injured players: Jamal Murray - questionable (ankle) , Gary Harris - questionable (groin), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr. - out (back), Derrick Rose - questionable (ankle), Jeff Teague - out (foot), Robert Covington - out (knee), Tyus Jones - out (ankle)
Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs. Karl-Anthony Towns
Two all-star centers will be matching up tonight in what is always an interesting showcase of young talent. Towns had a better scoring game in their last matchup on November 21st, as he had 22 points to go along with 7 rebounds. Jokic only scored 7 points but was three points away from a triple double (10 assists and 12 rebounds). Both centers will force the other to stretch out to the perimeter on the defensive end, as Towns is a 38% three-point shooter and Jokic keeps defenders honest from out there as well. Towns is averaging 22.6 points a game, so Jokic will have his hands full as he tries to be a presence on the defensive end while maintaining his aggressive mindset on offense. If the Nuggets are able to contain Towns, that increases their shot at winning this game immensely.
What to watch for: Nuggets’ effort after a big win last night
The Nuggets are riding high after their big win against the Rockets, a team they haven’t been able to beat in three years. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves are continuing to deal with injuries. Derrick Rose has been having a great season and has been able to put himself back on the map, but he is questionable for tonight with an ankle injury. Still, if the Nuggets go into the match-up unfocused and lacking energy, everything about the game has the potential to be a letdown. The Nuggets have struggled to start games this season, so it’s not crazy to think that the Wolves can get off to a hot start and leave the Nuggets chasing them the entire game, especially considering they’re are on the second night of a back-to-back and could still be without their starting backcourt. Ideally, the Nuggets will continue their hot shooting tonight while putting some more defense into the equation than what we saw against the Rockets last night.
Opening thought: Will the Nuggets secure the opportunity for their coaching staff to accompany Jokic to the all-star game?
If the Nuggets are able to get the win tonight, their coaching staff will coach Team LeBron in the all-star game. That will be a huge accomplishment for the organization, and it means that there will be a chance for Michael Malone to coach Jokic in the game (as long as Jokic is selected by LeBron James in the draft). After the Nuggets lost to the Golden State Warriors a couple of weeks ago and the Dubs went on to go on an 11-game winning streak, it would have been completely understandable for the Nuggets to remain in second-place going into the all-star break. The fact that they’ve been able to keep pace with the Warriors is an incredible feat, and coach Malone definitely deserves a lot of credit for that. If the Nuggets can take care of business tonight, the coaching staff will get that recognition that they deserve.
Also, just a reminder that the Nuggets and Denver Stiffs are teaming up once again for the next watch party TONIGHT at the Sports Column. Come join us as we watch the game in the presence of a myriad of Nuggets fans. There will be an opportunity to win prizes, interact with Rocky the Mascot, and enjoy the benefits of a full bar and a fun environment. Festivities begin at 6:30 p.m.