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Wolves at Nuggets: Winning the Important Ones

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The Wolves travel to Denver to play a divisional rival

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves (18-13) vs Denver Nuggets (16-14)
8:00 CST
FS North

Coming into this season, one of the ways in which I was planning on ascertaining how much better the Wolves were was with their record against three key Western Conference teams, the Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Denver Nuggets.

To achieve a modicum of success this season, the Wolves would have to play well against these three teams, as they were the most viable competition coming into the season.

Last year, the Wolves were 0-3 against the Pelicans, 1-3 against the Trailblazers, and 2-2 against the Nuggets.

So far, the Wolves have been 2-0 against the Pelicans and 1-0 against the Trailblazers. The icing on the cake has been the 2-1 record against the Thunder (we won’t mention the 1-2 record against the Phoenix Suns).

Tonight’s matchup with the Nuggets provides the team another opportunity to prove that they belong in that 4th seed slot in the Western Conference. The Nuggets will likely be fighting to rise in playoff seeding all season long, especially once Paul Millsap returns from his wrist injury.

This season, the Nuggets are sporting the 7th best offensive rating in the NBA with the 22nd ranked defensive rating, a similar position to the Wolves. The team’s scoring is remarkably egalitarian, with five players averaging between 14.8 and 16.1 points per game. The problem is that those five players do not make a great lineup, as Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray operate best as shooting guards. Wilson Chandler is perhaps the best big wing on the team, and as such is third in the team in minutes per game.

The team has an extreme deficit at point guard and big wings. Emmanuel Mudiay is still struggling and Jamal Murray has not been able to facilitate either, with 2.4 assists to 1.9 turnovers a game. It is not a good sign when your team’s assist leader is the center, even if it is Nikola Jokic, with 4.4 assists per game.

In recent games, the Nuggets have pulled-up Torrey Craig from the G League, who played nearly 30 minutes against the Thunder. He may be tasked with guarding Jimmy Butler tonight.

Nikola Jokic is returning from an injury and came off the bench in the previous two games, with Mason Plumlee starting. However, Jokic will reportedly not have a minutes limit tonight so it is a fair bet to see him return to the starting lineup.

This game figures to be an offensive shootout. Both teams have not fared well on defense all season long and the Jokic vs Towns battle is one that will feature lots of scoring but little rim protection.

The Wolves will have to work to slow the pace down, even if the Nuggets are not a remarkably fast-paced team, as playing the starters heavy minutes in Denver is not a recipe for success. The Nuggets also launch the third-most threes in the league, with Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Jamal Murray bombing away.

Tonight should be a fun battle, as the teams are relatively evenly matched up. Andrew Wiggins will have another opportunity to break out of his shooting slump, as the Nuggets do not really have a great defender to put on Wiggins and Butler.

Projected Starting Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague
Andrew Wiggins
Jimmy Butler
Taj Gibson
Karl-Anthony Towns

Nuggets

Jamal Murray
Gary Harris
Torrey Craig
Wilson Chandler
Nikola Jokic

Prediction - Wolves 110 - Nuggets 107. The Wolves keep on rolling against their key matchups.