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Wolves at Nuggets: Visiting the Mile High City

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Karl-Anthony Towns returns to lead Minnesota into Denver

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (32-35) at Nuggets (43-22)

9:30pm CST

TNT/FS North

Minnesota enters the Denver altitude after a perfect home stand, and will once again be tested on the road. If you expect the Wolves to continue their winning ways from the home stand tonight, well, then I’ve got something to sell you.

Minnesota’s 9-25 record on the road this season is putrid. Only four teams in the entire NBA have worse road records than that. They are the Knicks (7-28), Cavs (6-26), Mavs (6-27), and Suns (6-29). That isn’t exactly elite company.

If that wasn’t enough to put a damper on the hope for a victory tonight, Denver has the second best home record in the NBA (27-6), just barely behind the dominant Milwaukee Bucks (27-5).

Denver is, in my opinion, one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA. The way that Michael Malone runs their offense through Nikola Jokic is always fascinating, particularly because of how well the rest of the roster fits around him.

Jamal Murray is not your prototypical point guard in the sense that he struggles with the distribution aspects of the position. His passing/vision is more forced than natural. However, with Jokic as the main cog/playmaker on the offensive end, that isn’t as important. Murray isn’t the most efficient player (52.9 TS%), but when he gets it going, he can fill it up with the best of them.

Beyond Murray, Gary Harris has proved to be a great fit as a cutter with Jokic. Harris has struggled with injuries a bit this year, but his off-ball movement is alway so refreshing to watch.

Additionally, Paul Millsap is a near perfect pairing for Jokic in the front court. The ever under-appreciated forward just does all the right things on the floor. He making 35% of his threes and leading the defense. The Nuggets are 7.9 points better as a team with Millsap on the floor.

With all that being said, I’m pumped to watch the Nuggets bench. Monte Morris and Malik Beasley have become two of the best bench players in the entire league this year.

Morris is posting shooting splits of 48.8/41.5/79.5 while having an AST/TO ratio of 5.86. That is absurd production on even more absurd efficiency for a reserve player. Morris is an uber-efficient, super-charged Tyus Jones. He belongs in the thick of the Sixth Man of the Year award race.

On the other hand, Beasley has become one of the best shooters in the NBA this season. His 49.4/42.8/89.8 shooting splits produce a TS% of 62.4%. He is undeniably awesome. If the Wolves don’t stay glued to him off-the-ball, he is going to torch them.

It’s crazy what good scouting/drafting and player development can do for you. For reference, here is where the Nuggets starters and key reserves were selected in the draft:

Jamal Murray - 7th overall

Gary Harris - 19th overall

Will Barton - 40th overall

Paul Millsap - 47th overall

Nikola Jokic - 41st overall

Monte Morris - 51st overall

Malik Beasley - 19th overall

Torrey Craig - undrafted

Mason Plumlee - 22nd overall

So, yeah, the Nuggets built one of the best teams in the NBA with one lottery pick in their rotation. That is wildly impressive, and is a true testament to their scouting and player development departments.

The bright side for Timberwolves fans? It sounds as though Karl-Anthony Towns will be back in the lineup tonight. I think I speak for all of us when I say I hope he really is 100% and ready to go, but if he is, it’s going to be great to have him back out there. He was on such a dominant tear before his injury. They’ll need him to play at that All-NBA level tonight to remain competitive. That is the one of the only positives, though, on a lengthy injury report.

The one thing I really do want to see is regular minutes for Keita Bates-Diop again. He was awesome against the Knicks and was serviceable-to-good against the Wizards. This is the time of year where you play someone like KBD a lot of minutes and see what you have. He seems like he could/should be a solid low-usage wing player, but the only way to know for sure is to play him. He has the look/potential to be a steal late in the draft, similar to so many of the players currently in Denver’s rotation.

Bet of the night

I’m in no way saying that you SHOULD make these bets. I’m not betting them. It’s just a fun extra thing that I’ll be tracking for the remainder of the season. All lines via Bovada.

Well, I had the game completely backwards on Saturday against Washington. I expected to Wolves to start fast and fade afterwards. They started slow and came on strong in the end. That dropped us to 6-9 on the year. It would be nice to get back in the win column tonight.

The pick: Nuggets over 119 points (-120)

I take no pride in this, but at some point we have to put winning before our pride. If there’s one thing you can count on with the Timberwolves, it’s them giving up a ton of points on the road. In the Wolves last 5 road games they have not given up under 122 points. During that same stretch, opponents are AVERAGING 132 points per game. I don’t expect that to change tonight against a well oiled machine like the Nuggets.

Projected Lineups

Wolves

Tyus Jones

Josh Okogie

Andrew Wiggins

Dario Saric

Karl-Anthony Towns

Nuggets

Jamal Murray

Gary Harris

Will Barton

Paul Millsap

Nikola Jokic