Apr 10, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Peyton Watson (8) reacts after his dunk in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-107 in the regular season finale at Ball Arena to take over first place in the West, with just two games to go against conference bottom-feeders. Beat San Antonio and Memphis and they’ll clinch the title and home court advantage through at least the conference finals.

The game seemed less a battle of titans than of chess masters matching wits. For three quarters the game lacked passion and athletic displays, which turned out to be in favor of Denver (56-24), the ultimate thinking man’s team. Simply, Nikola Jokic and his cerebral teammates dissected the talented Wolves, now 55-25. The Nuggets displayed a master class of defense during the fourth quarter, announcing to the NBA that you might not like it, but  they are the team to beat because when it comes down to it, they can turn it on.

First Quarter

Both teams started the game by feeling each other out. Instead of one team dominating, it felt more exploratory. It started out as a cleanly played game without mistakes. Jamal Murray and KCP hit corner threes, and OMG so did Jaden McDaniels, proving once again a rando scores against us against all odds. Naz Reid picked up the Jokic turnover and had a nice slam. At 5 minutes left, Jokic hit a three, pulling Rudy Gobert into spaces he didn’t want to be. After a turnover, MPJ pulled up for a baby 15-footer that he made, and Twolves coach Finch called a timeout.

Ex-Nugget Monte Morris hit a couple threes, but Coach Malone left Jokic in the game to play with Peyton Watson, Christian Braun, Reggie Jackson and Justin Holiday until the last minute. The quarter ended with Minnesota leading 28-26. Twolves were 12 for 23 and the Nugs 11 for 23.  There were only two free throws in the quarter, one each missed by Pope and Jokic. The Nuggets finished the quarter with 8 fastbreak points to the Wolves’ 2, and Finch observed, “They’re playing with a sense of urgency in transition.” So much for any worries that the Twolves might want this one more than the defending champs did.

Second Quarter

Aaron Gordon started the quarter playing center, the tried-and-true Malone move in big games. But it was PSwat bringing the defensive energy, stuffing SloMo at the rim, somehow. Holiday hit a nice 3 from the quarter at 10:25. Watson made another spectacular block at 9:31 on SloMo and got hit with a foul, bad call that put Minnesota on the free-throw line for the first time in the game. SloMo will be seeing PSwat in his nightmares.

Gordon, with new suction cup hickeys on his shoulders, turned the ball over. Rusty, perhaps. The Wolves went on a 6-point run to make it 36-33. A low score looming. The Nuggets bench offense was incompetent, Jackson just 1-6 shooting in desperate iso moves, forcing Malone to sub Jokic back in with 7:20 to go. The Nuggets offense with the starters stalled. The Nuggets fumbled the ball around for five turnovers that gave the Wolves a 10-nothing run over 4:30 minutes. Murray stopped the pain with a 3-pointer. The Wolves finished the quarter playing good defense, capitalizing on their length and stuffing the Nugs. SloMo guarded Jokic and Gobert played volleyball on the back line. That’s the classic Jokic defense if our shooters aren’t hitting off his passes. Score 52-49, Minny, and only seven free throws between the two teams, a sure sign of a shortage of aggression.

Third Quarter

Edwards and Murray traded in-your-face threes. And finally the Jokic Gordon alley oop play hit to light up the Ball Arena crowd. Anthony Edwards showed that he’s too strong for KCP, bullying him in the paint. Edwards made two on the foul call. Conley’s threes continued, annoyingly. At around 7 minutes Denver made a push. Jokic got fouled but made the push shot off the Murray feed to make it 64-62 with 7:37 to go in the third. At about 6 minutes left, Naz Reid made a killer layup that hurt the Nuggets. The intensity of the game ramped up as the quarter ended. Jokic tied the game when he rolled into the paint, accepted a KCP pass, got submarined by SloMo and made the shot anyway. Joker finished the quarter with 32 points so far in the game, 15 in the quarter. Denver outscored MIN 34-28 during the quarter and took an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Fourth Quarter

Jokic took his well-deserved rest and the Nuggets seemed severely short, with Porter and Gordon the only bigs on the front line. Rudy was totally in the roaming mode, not what the Nugs wanted. At 9 minutes, PSwat got his fifth block of the game, and Braun blocked the putback right after that. A key Porter putback on a Gordon miss gave the Nuggets a 4-point lead, causing Finch to call timeout.

Jokic returned at 7:31 with the Nuggets up 91-87. The bench was plus-1 in the non-Jokic minutes during the quarter.  Denver worked the score to 93-87 and ran it up from there. Braun and Watson were beasts down the stretch, dunking at will, thrilling the Ball Arena crowd.


The Nuggets played all their starters. Clearly, they wanted this game. They got it. Any questions, NBA? Edwards minus 17 along with the rest of the Wolves starters with similar plus-minus numbers. This game, one that mattered, has to weigh on the minds of the Timberwolves players, organization and their fans. Nothing but respect for the team and its great and faithful fan base. But. Can the Wolves get it done when it matters? They have built a magnificent team. But there’s that Denver thing. That Jokic and Murray thing.