The 2024 regular season had to come to this. Two teams, the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves, began their climbs together, albeit in much different fashion. In 2018, the Wolves and Jimmy Butler kicked Denver and Nikola Jokic out of the playoffs in overtime of the last game of the season. It marked the last year out of the playoffs in the Jokic era. Soon thereafter, the original architect of these Nuggets, Tim Connelly, left for Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and remade the Wolves into a team built for one purpose: Destroy the Denver Nuggets. Trading for Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley to match with Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards would build a team with enough size to match Denver.

It didn’t work. Injuries and the usual schematic math problems inherent in having Gobert on your team led to more down times. Jokic and Murray’s Nuggets knocked Minnesota out of the first round 4-1 last April, but Bruce Brown would accurately give the Wolves the respect they earned by saying after the Nuggets won the championship that Minnesota was their toughest out. This year, it did work. The Wolves are back in Denver, where Connelly got his start, tied with Denver for the best record in the West. It isn’t the most important game of the season. The playoffs are. But it’s only fitting that these two teams with intertwined pasts will continue the saga tonight. For Minnesota, their destiny is climbing the mountain represented by Mount Jokic.

Pregame: Both teams are on back-to-backs. Denver’s at home for this one having played in Salt Lake and taking care of business there, and MIN travels after beating the hapless Wizards.

Tuesday afternoon the Wolves announced that Towns was back from torn meniscus surgery and cleared to play 5-on-5 contact basketball, soon to return to full duty. Why should Minnesota, which has adjusted wonderfully to his loss, change anything for tonight? They won’t, as it has been speculated that he’ll return Friday.

It’s been pointed out that KAT has adjusted to the starters, let damn-near superstar Anthony Edwards be the show on offense with dump-offs to Rudy Gobert, and space the floor with his 3-point shooting. His replacement, Naz Reid, is a beast, fresh off a 31/11 on 12 out of 16 field goal, yikes, game against the Lakers before taking an early ejection last night night for misplacing his elbow against the head of Wizards guard Johnny Davis. Minnesota is arguably a better team without KAT, which leads one to believe that MIN may try to dump his humungous contract in the offseason. All that rosterbation is to the side tonight, though, as both teams’ road to No. 1 in the West depends on winning out.

After this one, the Nuggets have two winnable games in San Antonio and Memphis. We have to believe all hands will be on deck Wednesday night, as Aaron Gordon didn’t play in Salt Lake City. Of course, both teams want to win but are desperate not to get any of their players hurt. It’s a tricky spot to be in, but you can’t play skeered. I’ve always believed you will endure better playing hard and being the aggressor.

Throw in a wild card here. Edwards scored a career-high 51 points last night. So maybe his arms are tired from tossing up 29 shots or from raising them to celebrate after 17 passed through the hoop.

The Essentials

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves 55-24 at Denver Nuggets 55-24

When: 8 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time (yuck)

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch and listen: ESPN, Altitude TV where available (Altitude TV is available on DirecTV, DirecTV stream and Fubo TV). NBA League pass for those not in the Nuggets market. Altitude Radio 92.5.

Rival Blog:

The match-up:

Nuggets                                                        Jazz                                         Advantage

PG     Jamal Murray                                Mike Conley                               Nuggets

SG     Kentavius Caldwell-Pope          Anthony Edwards                     Wolves

SF      Michael Porter Jr.                        Jaden McDaniels                      Nuggets

PF      Aaron Gordon                               Naz Reid                                      Even

C        Nikola Jokic                                  Rudy Gobert                               The MVP

Bench:                                                                                                            Wolves

Injuries: Minnesota – K. Towns, J. Clark. Denver – A. Gordon questionable, foot.

The three things

The thing to watch for:

Canis Hoopus points out that per NBA Stats, the Timberwolves rank middle of the road allowing 16.2 points off turnovers per game (15th). Over the last 5 games this number has jumped to 19 points. This game is an opportunity for Denver’s bench to create offense from turning the Wolves over.

The thing to remember:

The season series between the teams opened with the Timberwolves’ Revenge Game. One team clearly cared more than the other in the Nov. 1 rematch at Target Center:  The Wolves’ tipoff-to-buzzer, 110-89 rout of the champions launched a seven-game winning streak that moved them to the top of the standings by Dec. 1. Edwards scored 24 and KAT 21, with Joker battling for 25. Murray opened the game 0-for-9, the Nuggets missed 82 percent of their 3s and Joker made it to the line just twice while the Wolves were hitting 26 of 27 free throws.

But that was the only contest featuring both teams at full strength. On March 19, the Nuggets went back to Minny with KAT, Gobert and Naz Reid in street clothes, but they couldn’t keep an 18-point lead comfy. They prevailed 115-112 at the buzzer when Edwards, who had 30 points but none in the fourth quarter, missed a good-looking 3. And on March 29 it was Murray in street clothes and Joker in a wrist wrap as the Wolves hushed a Ball Arena crowd with a 111-98 rout.

The thing to bet:

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over 10.5 points scored, +100 at Draft Kings. He’s been red hot from three lately.