The Nuggets are going down tonight when they take on the Timberwolves in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Timberwoves (27-5) vs. Denver Nuggets (17-13) at Target Center
After getting a close win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and destroying the New Orleans Hornets, the Timberwolves are looking for their third straight win tonight at the Target Center when they take on the Denver Nuggets. The Wolves faced the Nuggets only 11 days ago at the Pepsi Center, when Kevin Love went off for 43 points and 17 rebounds, and the Wolves were able to escape with the moral victory 113-115.
Tonight, Carmelo Anthony is still out due to personal reasons, having missed the last four games to be with his family following the death of his sister. The Nuggets may also be without forward Al Harrington, who is suffering from a thumb injury, and Kenyon Martin, who has been struggling with a sore knee all season.
Minus Anthony Tolliver, the Wolves are at full strength and seem to be turning a corner. With a day's rest, and the Nuggets on the 2nd day of a back-to-back following a 95-77 win over the Blazers, look for the Wolves to put on a strong performance tonight.
Let's break down the matchups:
Darko Milicic vs. Nene
In the 2010-11 season, Darko Milicic is averaging the most points (9.1), assists (1.8) and blocks (2.4) of any center 25 years of age or younger in Timberwolves' history. Sorry, Rasho. Apologies, Felton. Too bad, Luc. A new legend is being created at Target Center, and although there are some fans still unwilling to admit that Darko is one of the best centers that this franchise has ever had, he is continuing to win his matchup game after game this season.
Tonight, his matchup is Nene, the 6-11 center from Brazil. It's interesting that Nene is from Brazil, since Darko is going to be feasting on points and rebounds all night like he was eating at Fogo de Chao. Darko did not play in the last game against the Nuggets, and Kosta Koufos had a stellar 4 point-10 rebound performance against Nene.
Even with the return of the Birdman, given the upgrade from Kosta to Darko - plus, the fact that Nikola Pekovic is back in the lineup - this matchup should easily go to the Timberwolves.
Winner: Darko Milicic
No 'Melo? No Martin? Who on the Nuggets is going to guard Kevin Love and stop him from going off for 40+ points again?
Kevin Love vs. Shelden Williams
The Nuggets have been playing better ever since the return of Kenyon Martin to the team. Unfortunately for Denver, Martin appears to be out again tonight and Shelden Williams will have to once again fill Martin's spot in the starting lineup. Given that Nene and the Birdman are going to have to stay on Darko most of the night, Love is going to get to face the trio of Shelden Williams, Melvin Ely and Renaldo Balkman.
While another career high in points scored might not happen tonight, mostly because Darko will likely take some of Love's shot attempts, a 20-20 performance seems likely and another 30 rebounds is not out of the question.
Kevin Love has had 18 games in a row with 10 rebounds or more. He's only the 8th player in the last 6 years to have a streak that long (Dwight Howard has had 3 streaks of 18 games or longer in that span). With each game, Love is trying to build up more evidence to show that he belongs on the All-Star team. Tonight should go a long way towards that goal.
Winner: Kevin Love
On KFAN today, Michael Beasley said that he doesn't mind Minnesota and likes shoveling all this snow with his friends. Looks like someone is angling to be Grand Marshall of the Holidazzle parade next year.
Michael Beasley vs. Arron Afflalo
Some people forget that Michael Beasley is only 22 years old. Although he is the Alpha Dog of our team, he's still growing as a player and has a long way to go before he reaches his full potential. Compare Beasley's offensive numbers this season to three other 22 year olds who have been #1 scoring options for the Wolves:
Beasley is already a better scorer at 22 than any of the other three. He gets to the line more often, and other than Big Al, he has a higher field goal percentage. Given that Beasley doesn't shy away from making plays in crunch time and his high level of overall confidence on the court, its not hard to think that he will continue to grow as an offensive threat.
Arron Afflalo, Gary Forbes or whoever else the Nuggets try to put on Beasley tonight, given the absence of Carmelo Anthony, will likely be unable to stop Be Easy from scoring. I think Beasley will drop at least 30 and he'll do so shooting better than 55% from the floor.
Winner: Michael Beasley
Watch out, J.R. Wesley's going to make a poster out of you tonight.
Slow and steady wins the race. For Wesley Johnson this season, that adage has certainly been true. Johnson hasn't captured headlines like John Wall or Blake Griffin, but he's been an efficient scorer, an above average defender - and lately - a player who appears capable of breaking out as an offensive weapon when he picks his spots correctly.
Although he only scored 8 points against the Nuggets 11 days ago - on only 7 shots - Johnson just came off of a 24-point performance against the New Orleans Hornets. Shooting 8-of-12 from the floor, including 6-of-8 from downtown, Johnson showed that he can put points in a hurry if he gets the chance to shoot the basketball or if he creates opportunities for himself.
Tonight, Wes goes up against J.R. Smith, a guy who is not exactly known for playing lock down defense. After all, Smith can't even stop himself from shooting, let alone anyone on the other team. The Nuggets may switch Afflalo, a much better defender, onto Wes occasionally. Given that they will likely have to choose between stopping Beasley or stopping Johnson - without 'Melo, they won't be able to do both - Johnson should have plenty of opportunities tonight.
If he makes the most of them, Johnson may grab some headlines after all.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
Say what you will about Luke Ridnour, he's been making plays this year for the Wolves. Mr. Big Shot is going to have his hands full tonight.
Luke Ridnour vs. Chauncey Billups
Since the 2004-2005 season, how many players on the Minnesota Timberwolves have averaged more assists per game than the 5.3 that Luke Ridnour is dishing out this year?
One of them was Sebastian Telfair in 2007-2008. The other wasn't even a point guard. It was Kevin Garnett in 2004-2005. Jonny Flynn was too busy scoring last year and his 2009-2010 season ranks only 10th since '04-'05 in assists per game, behind such renowned playmakers as Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks and Mike Miller.
Anyhow, back to Ridnour. Tonight, unlike in their previous matchup, he will have to go up against Chauncey Billups - who is still recovering from a sore wrist - and Ty Lawson. Ridnour seems to play better against guys like Billups who can shoot the ball, but aren't quick enough to blow past him to the hoop. Flynn plays better against guys like Lawson who are fast with the ball but can't get much separation in the half court to get off shots.
If Rambis handles the matchups correctly, we should be able to neutralize both of the Nugget point guards and prevent them from killing us with penetration or with outside shooting.
Winner: Luke Ridnour
Despite the warm weather today, freezing rain and snow showers are on the way and the Nuggets will definitely be walking in a Winter Wonderland then. Unfortunately for them, the outdoors will seem inviting compared to the harsh conditions they'll be facing when they take on the Timberwolves tonight. Without 'Melo, the Nuggets don't stand a chance.
My prediction: Timberwolves 117 - Denver Nuggets 111
Timberwolves' Record: 28-5 (30 wins away from the best record in team history)