Kenneth Faried dominated the Wolves with a season-high 26 points and career-best 25 rebounds in the first meeting between Denver and Minnesota this season. Arron Afflalo took his turn shredding the Wolves on Monday night, finishing with a season-high 34 points in the Nuggets' 110-101 win at Target Center.
Neither Andrew Wiggins or Shabazz Muhammad could slow down Afflalo, who finds himself on a hot streak to start the new year - he's averaging 25.3 points on 61.4 percent shooting (27-44) in 36.7 minutes over the last three games.
"He was on tonight," Muhammad said. "Me and Wiggins were playing great defense on him and he was just making everything tonight. Sometimes that happens, it's the NBA. We're just trying to guard him as hard as we can and he was making some tough shots."
Wiggins added, "It was good defense, but I thought I could have done better. A lot better. I don't think it was one of my best defensive performances." And it wasn't, Afflalo was getting good looks throughout the night.
While Afflalo was outstanding, the Nuggets' bench was the real key. They outscored the Wolves' reserves 47-10 in a dominating all-around performance. Rookie center Jusuf Nurkic (pronounced: you-SOOF nor-KITCH) flashed some of the skills that made him the No. 16 pick this past summer, scoring 14 incredibly easy points to go with six rebounds, four blocks and two steals in 22 minutes off the bench. J.J. Hickson also added 16 points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes, while Nate Robinson had 12 points and six assists in 21 minutes.
Conversely, the Wolves' bench failed to make any sort of positive impact. Zach LaVine (2-9 in 26 minutes) and Anthony Bennett (1-6 in 15 minutes) combined for seven points on 15 shots and neither looked comfortable on the court. Actually, they both looked overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Seriously overwhelmed. LaVine was -26 on the night and had a collection of out of control plays because he was going 100 mph on the court and 200 mph in his head. He really needs to slow down.
Bennett finished -18 and continued to loiter around the perimeter settling for long-two's. When he decided to attack, well, it resulted in turnovers. Right now, if Bennett wants to make an impact on this team, he needs to start doing the dirty work like Jeff Adrien consistently does. That means grabbing rebounds, communicating and playing good defense. Otherwise, what is he doing on the court to make the team better?
Sam Mitchell, who filled in for a sick Flip Saunders, talked about the lack of offensive production from the bench after the game:
"Think about it, earlier in the season we had Shabazz coming off the bench, we had other guys coming off the bench that could score. But right now Bazz is in the starting lineup and it makes it tough for the guys coming off the bench, because our bench guys are not really scorers, or they're young and haven't found their niche in the NBA as far as what kind of player they're going be. Are they going to be a scorer coming off the bench? A defensive player? We just don't have the numbers. You try to balance out your lineup, but it's just tough right now."
(Story of the season: We Just Don't Have the Numbers)
In the end, this game just brought more of the same and the Wolves' losing streak continues to grow.
- Gorgui Dieng finished with 22 points (tying his career-high), 12 rebounds and three blocks. Dieng, or "G" as his teammates call him, has now blocked two or more shots in seven consecutive games.
- Chase Budinger and Robbie Hummel, in addition to Saunders, also missed the game due to illness.
- Shabazz Muhammad finished with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting (2-4 from deep), six rebounds and four assists. Over the last six games he's 11-for-22 from deep and has relied more heavily on catch-and-shoot situations to score rather than doing his work exclusively on the left block or offensive glass. This is a positive development.
- Mo Williams played 25 minutes and finished with 17 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four turnovers in his first start since December 3.
- Andrew Wiggins finished with 20 points, his fourth consecutive 20+ point outing. Wiggins is the first Wolves rookie with four straight since Isaiah Rider did it in 1994. Only Christian Laettner (five straight in 1993) and Sam Mitchell (five straight in 1989) have had longer streaks as a rookie.
Below is the full postgame press conference with Sam Mitchell: