Optimism was running high after the Denver Nuggets opened the season with a road win against the Houston Rockets. Unfortunately, they followed up that impressive performance with a dud in the home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns proved to be too much for Denver and he showed why he was selected number 1 overall in the draft this past summer. Despite some promising play from rookies Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets fall 95-78.

It was virtually a wire to wire victory for the Timberwolves, with an 8-8 tie early in first quarter being the only time the Nuggets didn’t trail. The game started out with some promise as Danilo Gallinari was getting to the basket and displaying a first step that Tayshaun Prince simply couldn’t keep up with. Also, Gary Harris threw in an impressive 360 layup after Kenneth Faried blew a dunk that was sure to make top ten lists because he got it off a through the defender’s legs pass from Gallo, perhaps that was a sign that the game just wasn’t going to go Denver’s way. The tides turned quickly and the Nuggets began to trail. The young T-wolves showed thier potential as Andrew Wiggins utilized his size to take advantage of the smaller Gary Harris and started posting him up frequently. Mudiay at one point had a very nice drive to euro step that in most cases would result in an easy two points. However, Towns came in with a ferocious block to deny him. As my buddy Jay put it (inspired by Scott Hastings comment about putting “too much mustard” on a pass) Towns took the salt right off Mudiay’s pretzel on that one. Coach Malone elected to go small early by subbing out Joffrey Lauvergne for Randy Foye and things went downhill quickly. After Towns’ ferocious block the Nuggets became very tentative to take the ball to the hoop and instead settled for contested mid-range jumpers, compounding this was the fact they took precisely zero trips to the free throw line in the first quarter and couldn’t get anything going from beyond the three point line.

The second quarter offered a little improvement as Denver finally got some threes to fall from Mudiay and Darrell Arthur. However Gallo was ice cold from the outside (and in general…bad night for Gallo). Add in the lack of good spacing and Towns presence and Denver just couldn’t get any efficient baskets. Their lack of size started to become very apparent in this one (seriously why do I keep getting the recaps on the games where Denver just gets abused inside) and though Kenneth Faried was active on the glass, the rest of the team couldn’t compete with Towns, Kevin Garnett and Nemanja Bjelica inside. You heard that right, couldn’t compete with Nemanja Bjelica. What good Arthur did from three on offense he killed them on defense by closing out late and fouling shooters beyond the arc. Foul trouble in general became a problem and this game could have become a laugher much sooner but fortunately Minnesota was really struggling from the free throw line.

The third quarter didn’t really offer any improvement as Towns continued to abuse Denver inside and out. I’ve been skeptical of him but after tonight there’s no doubt in my mind, that kid is an absolute stud. Wiggins and Towns are going to set Minnesota up very nicely for the future. Wiggins had a harder time when Will Barton subbed in on him, but he nonetheless continued to be effective with his post play. There was hope that Denver might be able to seize the momentum from Minnesota because the game kept getting interrupted by a faulty clock over one of the baskets, but all that ended up doing was making Barton take a half court shot about 9 seconds too soon because they had to shut the clock off and Barton mistook the PA announcers countdown of Minnesota’s expiring shot clock to be a countdown of the expiring time in the quarter…yep, it was that type of game.

The fourth quarter was a little better. Jokic got back into the game and showed off how he can be an excellent roll man on the pick and roll and the bench, led by Barton, Jameer Nelson and Mike Miler (yes Mike Miller), kept trying to rally. This was just one of those games though where Denver got behind early and never could get back within striking distance. They seemed to be consistently cutting the margin to about 12 pts but then their offense would stall and Minnesota would push the lead back out to 15-20 pts. It was a game that was definitely more on the Nuggets performance in losing than in Minnesota’s performance in winning, Towns’ excellent play not withstanding. The dream of 82-0 is over, but on the bright side…81-1 is still achievable.

Thing we watched for: Mudiay takes center stage

Mudiay played fairly decent, leading the team in scoring with 15pts. Still, it took him 15 shots to get those points and he had just two assists. Not all of this was his fault, at one point he had a beautiful pass off the pick and roll to Jokic only to see him not be able to finish at the rim (the Nuggets as a whole struggled with finishing). He decreased his turnovers from the previous game to 4 tonight, which, IMO, is still too many from your starting PG. As the game went on he started to press a bit, almost trying to bring back the team single handedly. However, on the bright side he shot 40% from three and while his stroke is certainly not textbook, it does appear to be effective. In the end though I think all Nuggets fans were hoping for a monster rookie performance in the home opener. They got it…it just happened to be provided by Towns.

Key matchup: Andrew Wiggins Vs. Gary Harris

Wiggins won this one all the way. He quickly realized that the likes of Harris, Foye and even Barton could not contain him in the post and he went to work utilizing his size to get easy buckets. He was able to get Harris into foul trouble early and that alone forced made Gary a non-factor for the evening. As I said, Barton did a much better job on him which ultimately kept Wiggins from having a stellar night. Harris ended up with just 18 minutes on the court but still managed to wrack up a -15 rating. For as well as Barton performed on defense, he chucked up 14 shots on his way to a 28.6% night shooting from the field.

Other thing we watched for: The Nuggets rotation or small ball?

Malone went to the small ball early, and that's precisely when Minnesota started pulling away. The small ball lineup was completely ineffective as Towns (I know this seems like a Towns love fest but seriously, the guy was dominant) had his way. Kudos to Coach Malone for realizing it wasn't really working and deciding to go away from it later in the game, preferring lineups that featured more of Arthur and Jokic. In fact, after he subbed Foye in early for Lauvergne, Coach Malone abandoned the idea of Foye altogether and later would elect to go with the bigger Miller. Small ball is great to when the team is getting out on the fast break, but despite their efforts, Denver just couldn't get the pace going in their way with any consistency and thus a bigger lineup was the only way to stop the bleeding. It was too little too late though.

At least on the bright side our “bold” prediction that Mudiay would get less than 11 turnovers came true, so I guess we’ll hang our hat on that. Additionally, its one game of an 82 game season and the team will get to turn the page fairly quickly with a date in Oklahoma City in Sunday with the Thunder. Here’s hoping they get back to running, back to being aggressive towards the basket and back to the superb spacing that was so effective against Houston.

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Box score via ESPN.com