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Wolves vs Nuggets: On the Brink

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The Wolves fight to maintain their playoff spot against the surging Nuggets

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves (44-34) at Denver Nuggets (43-35)
9:30 Central Time
TNT

So it begins.

After getting demolished by the Utah Jazz on Sunday in perhaps the most important game of the season, the Wolves are now in for the fight of their lives to hold onto their playoff dreams. At the beginning of the year, we knew that the Western Conference was going to be a Max Max-style battle, as most teams were stacked with star talent.

With just a few games left in the season, this has certainly held true.

Just one game separates the Nuggets and the Wolves in the standings, with two matchups left to play in the season. If the Nuggets win out, beating the Wolves twice, it probably means the Wolves are going home. If the Wolves take at least one game, they most likely get to hold onto their playoff spot.

While the Wolves lead the season series 2-0, the Wolves come in tonight as the underdog, with 538 giving the Nuggets a 71 percent chance of victory.

A lot of that is due to injuries. The Wolves two wins against the Nuggets this year were with Jimmy Butler, including the game in December where Jimmy put the team on his back in the 4th quarter and in overtime.

But Butler is doubtful tonight and Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose are both questionable. Without Butler, the Wolves have not been good. Without Butler and Teague, things have been a disaster. This is primarily due to the Wolves’ depth, which heads south real fast without the two starters. Last game, we saw Aaron Brooks do as well as as could be expected, but his play has not held up this season. The other problem is that the shortened lineup forces Jamal Crawford to play much heavier minutes, such as the game against the Jazz were Crawford logged 27 minutes (and was -24 during the period). If the shots are not going in for Jamal, those lineups just hemorrhage any advantage.

For the Nuggets, they have won three straight games, including an improbable victory against the Bucks. They will have their own injury to deal with, as Gary Harris will not be playing, but the real matchup will be between Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Of the high-profile center matchups, this seems to be the one that Towns does the best with. Throughout the season, we have seen Towns simply be outmuscled by the larger star centers in the league and the defense of players like Al Horford, Joel Embiid, and Marc Gasol has given him problems. That will not be the case with Jokic tonight (unless Mike Malone elects to put Paul Millsap on Towns, which would probably be a great idea).

The Nuggets have not had Millsap for their first two games, so we will see if his presence makes a difference.

(Sad note, in the Nuggets preview for this game, they list the Andrew Wiggins vs Will Barton matchup as “even.” It’s hard to be that mad about it.)

The other big question of the game will be defense, as in will anyone try to play it? The Nuggets currently have the 26th ranked defensive rating (111.2) and the Wolves are ranked 28th (111.5). Both teams have been able to succeed/survive this season with their high-octane offenses. In the most recent stretch of games, the Wolves have been unable to stop anyone on defense, with luminaries like Taurean Prince and Tim Hardway Jr. scoring at will. Against Jokic and Jamal Murray, someone is going to have to get some stops.

There is no bigger game in the regular season than tonight. The Wolves simply need a win or they will be on the precipice of falling out of the playoffs over the next week. This team, when shorthanded, has not looked up to the task so far. Let’s hope they surprise us tonight.

Butler might be ready to go tonight. He is going to warm-up and see how it goes. My money is on him playing.

Projected Starting Lineups

Wolves

Tyus Jones (assuming Teague is out)
Andrew Wiggins
Nemanja Bjelica
Taj Gibson
Karl-Anthony Towns

Nuggets

Jamal Murray
Will Barton
Wilson Chandler
Paul Millsap
Nikola Jokic

Our blogging buddies are over at the Denver Stiffs. Here we go.