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Game #57 Preview: Nugg City

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The Wolves get high, flying to Denver, in an attempt to split the season series with the Nuggets

Welcome to Denver, dear readers. It’s a beautiful city. The mountains are close, the weather is mild, and it’s where this blogger has called home for the last five years. Denver reminds me of Minneapolis in a lot of ways; there are parks everywhere, a commitment to arts and culture, a burgeoning mass transit system, and a woebegone basketball franchise. Both cities are also full of Minnesotans. Seriously, we’re everywhere.

Over the last several years (and decades), Denver’s population growth has consistently exceeded the national average, causing Colorado “natives” to become an elusive, endangered group. They’re here. They put stickers on their cars with pride, but they’re becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall population of the city.

While the growth has been wonderful for the city’s development, the transplant population hasn’t necessarily adopted the Denver sports franchises as their own. Sure, people will cheer for the Broncos when they’re doing well, provided that their success doesn’t conflict with that of the Vikings, Packers, or Bears. People go to Rockies games because it’s something to do and an excuse to have a few local beers (coors). But the affection and affiliation to the local franchises is not consistently demonstrated here in Denver, especially when it comes to the Nuggets.

The Nuggets are regularly last in the NBA in overall attendance. There are a number of reasons for this, broken down beautifully by our blog buddies at Denver Stiffs, but the influx of midwesterners seems to have had a direct impact. I will be improving their attendance numbers this evening, but I’ll be doing so while clad in Minnesota blue, cheering for the Wolves, and asking Ricky to be my best friend.

In addition to the changing metrics of the population mix, the Nuggets just haven’t been that good over the last several years. Better than the Wolves? Absolutely, but they’ve lacked that dynamic player or potential superstar that moves the needle, both in the wins column and in drawing attendance. Since Carmelo Anthony’s departure in 2011, the Nuggets have traded away Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Andre Iguodala, and Ty Lawson in exchange for draft picks and solid-but-not-stars like Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Jameer Nelson.

The Nuggets have started building a solid core with these players and smart draft picks, but they still seem to be lacking the potential star power that the Wolves have in KAT and Wiggins. Yes, Nikola Jokic has the potential to be really, really good, but his personality and appearance could be that of a worm wearing a basketball uniform.

Can you really put that mug on a billboard and expect to intrigue a group of transplants to come to the Pepsi Center? The Nuggets marketing department has some serious challenges facing them.

Despite the attendance struggles, and lack of star firepower, the Nuggets find themselves holding onto the eighth seed in the Western Conference and are coming off a massive win against the Golden State Warriors. Since mid-January, they are 11-7, with blowout wins against the Clippers, Utah, Dallas, and Golden State. They’ve been dealing with injuries over that stretch as well, with five players sitting for tonight’s game, and yet, with a poo-poo platter of players, the Nuggets are entering into the All-Star Break with some serious momentum.

In Monday night’s game against the Warriors, the Nuggets received massive contributions from well-known names such as Juancho Hernangomez (27 points, 10 boards), Will Barton (24 points, 10 boards), and a giant worm in a basketball uniform (17 points, 12 assists, 21 boards), on their way to a 132 - 110 win.

This is genuinely frightening. With the recent trade for occasional Wolves killer, Mason Plumlee, the Nuggets have the height to expose the Wolves interior defensive struggles, and the three point shooting to expose our additional defensive struggles. This is a game that the Wolves absolutely need to win in order to creep back into the playoff picture, if we still want to hold onto that dream, but with this being the second half of a back-to-back, on the road, against a team with momentum, I have my concerns. Before I break down into tears, let’s take a closer look at the lineups and stats.

Expected Starting Lineups

Timberwolves

PG - Ricky Rubio

SG - Brandon Rush

SF - Andrew Wiggins

PF - Gorgui Dieng

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Injuries: Nikola Pekovic (boulder crushing incident), Lance Stephenson (ankle), Zach Lavine (knee), Payne-train (illness)

Nuggets

PG - Jameer Nelson

SG - Will Barton

SG - Gary Harris

PF - Juancho Hernangomez

C - Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Darrell Arthur (knee), Wilson Chandler (tattoo infection), Kenneth Faried (ankle), Danilo Gallinari (groin), Emmanuel Mudiay (back)

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Nuggets match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Nuggets

eFG% / 51.1 / 52.1

TOV% / 13.2 / 13.5

ORB% / 26.9 / 29.3

FTR / .225 / .220

Ugh, nerves are continuing to mount. The Nuggets shoot better than the Wolves and crash the offensive glass at a higher clip. They’re first in the NBA in their offensive rebounding percentage, fifth in their overall offensive rating, and just tied an NBA record for threes in a game with 24 against the Warriors.

Yes, they’re missing a large portion of their regular contributors, and yes, every game this season between the two teams have been extremely close. Also, I will be in attendance, and Ricky has been playing amazingly, and he and I are going to be best friends after tonight. And Wiggins looked really good against the Cavaliers. Oh, and Brandon Rush is going to be playing. Shabazz may do some things. Hmm. Do I go with the stats and hard evidence, or did writing this last paragraph of nonsense just change my gut feeling from a loss to a win?

Screw it, we’re in the gut-feeling-based-on-no-hard-facts era. I’ll dive right into that warm embrace...

Wolves 113, Nuggets 108

Let’s Go Wolves!!