What a different 10 days make. On May 6th, the Denver Nuggets lost Game 2 of this series to fall behind 0-2 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since then they’ve stormed back to take a 3-2 series lead and put the Timberwolves on the brink of elimination. Minnesota will have the home crowd and the desperation, Denver will have the knowledge that they have been here before and know how to put good teams away even on the road. In Game 5, Nikola Jokic had a playoff performance for the ages with his 40 points, 7 rebounds and 13 assists not coming close to telling the tale of his domination of the league’s top-rated defense. The Timberwolves will have to dig deep into their bag of tricks, while Denver is going to rely on the MVP playing like the best player in the world and his teammates feeding off that. Does Minnesota have another win in them, or will Denver be planning for the Western Conference Finals? Regardless, this game could be the biggest challenge for either squad in these playoffs.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (3-2) at Minnesota Timberwolves (2-3)

When: 6:30 PM MDT

Where: Target Center. Minneapolis, MN.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. ESPN. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio. NBA League Pass for those not in the Nuggets market. Say you scaled the Himalayas to find a hidden temple and just got back with the answer on how to slow Nikola Jokic.

Rival blog: Canis Hoopus

Injury report: Jamal Murray – questionable (calf), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Mike Conley – questionable (calf)

The Three Things

The thing to watch for: Early execution

I don’t mean the headsman’s axe or the guillotine, I mean the Nuggets need to overcome the emotion of the crowd and the desperate attack mode that Minnesota will be in and execute on both ends of the floor. Anthony Edwards will be trying to go for 40 with or without Mike Conley on the floor, and an early hot start from him could leave Denver in a dogfight for the full 48. Karl-Anthony Towns is still dangerous and the Timberwolves will try to apply the defensive pressure from the first 2 games that they’ve been unable to execute since. Denver needs to take care of the ball on offense and score with or without Jokic on the floor. Minnesota will be looking for signs of hope that this game will be different from the previous three – don’t give them any.

The thing to remember: Jokic is life – but Aaron Gordon is the beating heart of the series.

All things for Denver run through Nikola Jokic, and his early passivity in the playoffs was not obvious from the box score but rather from the way he didn’t control the games in the way Nuggets fans are used to seeing. That all changed in Game 3, and these three games have shown him orchestrating on defense and offense and making the Timberwolves dance to his tune. Aaron Gordon got into that act also as Denver looked to take pressure off Jamal Murray, whose calf injury is not allowing him to react as well to the wing pressure that is one of Minnesota’s strengths. With Murray spared from exerting all that energy he has performed better in the past few games while Aaron Gordon has reverted to All-Star form on both ends. He is actually performing the cliché of defending one through five, from Anthony Edwards on ball to Rudy Gobert in the paint. AG’s assists and shot-making have been crucial both from the field and the stripe. Nikola Jokic has imposed himself on this series in a way that underlines his legacy in the game, but Aaron Gordon is operating in his shadow to make sure that effort is not wasted. Both men need to be at their peak to close Game 6 out for Denver.

The thing to bet: Nikola Jokic over 20 rebounds + assists (-110)

The Nuggets are unlikely to win without Jokic at the reins and the other Nuggets hitting the wide-open shots he gets for them. He may need to do this from the block depending the defense Minnesota chooses to die by, or he may be on the perimeter finding cutters and setting up his attack. I don’t know whether he’ll have double-digit rebounds or double-digit assists, but this way you don’t have to choose. Whatever Minnesota decides to do, Jokic will find a way to solve it. And this covers you for several contingencies.