What To Watch For
Let’s start with something really basic: watchable basketball in general. After two disheartening blowouts against the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, the Timberwolves laid yet another egg this past Friday against the winless (at the time!) Washington Wizards. Looking ahead, Minnesota will play five of their next seven games at home, all against other up-and-down Western Conference teams, including the Nuggets (2x), Blazers, Spurs (2x) and Grizzlies (2x).
Back to Friday’s loss against the lowly Wizards for a moment — the team spent the weekend saying all the right things off the court, but it means next to nothing if they don’t come out soon and start putting up more of a fight on the court.
D'Angelo Russell on the Timberwolves lack of continuity:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) January 2, 2021
"I hate saying that we're young. I hate saying it. But it matters. It matters when you want continuity. It matters when it's four possessions in a row and we haven't gotten a good shot yet... And that comes within time."
The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski also had a really strong piece over the weekend detailing everyone’s frustrations — from D’Angelo Russell to Ryan Saunders and everyone in between:
Postgame shooting sessions with Pablo Prigioni. Prepractice sitdowns with Ryan Saunders. D’Angelo Russell and the Timberwolves are searching for answers during a troubling skid. https://t.co/azlPin3wHm— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) January 2, 2021
As someone who tries to view everything through an optimistic lens, it’s great to see some of these comments after what was truly a horrendous week of Timberwolves basketball, but again — it means next to nothing if the team comes out tonight and looks lifeless (yet again) against a struggling but physical Denver Nuggets squad.
One thing I will specifically be looking at tonight is how head coach Ryan Saunders attempts to allocate minutes to his brigade of power forwards. Jake Layman showed some serious signs of life against the Wizards, and Juancho Hernangomez has now scored in a season-high three straight games, but neither has shown enough to carve out a regular role in the rotation (at least in my opinion). Despite losing Jerami Grant in the offseason to the Pistons, the Nuggets still bring plenty of height and physicality to their front line, which might force Ryan to give Jarred Vanderbilt a real shot at regular minutes (at least until Karl-Anthony Towns returns from his wrist injury).
Ryan Saunders on what you try to take away from Nikola Jokic:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) January 3, 2021
“His playmaking, especially in the post. Their points per possession is extremely high with him making passes out of the post. He picks double-teams apart.”
As for the visiting Nuggets, they haven’t been able to carry the same success they had in the NBA bubble over to the start of the 2020-2021 season, despite Nikola Jokic continuing to play like one of (if not the best) centers in the entire league. Entering tonight’s game against Minnesota, The Joker currently leads Denver in points per game (23.0), assists per game (13.0), rebounds per game (11.0) and steals per game (1.4). With KAT still on the shelf, I’d expect another video game-like performance from the Nuggets big man.
The @Timberwolves Status Report in advance of Jan. 3 vs. Denver:— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) January 2, 2021
Jaylen Nowell – Left Soleus Strain
Josh Okogie – Left Hamstring Strain
Karl-Anthony Towns – Left Perilunate Subluxation
No real surprise here, although I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Josh Okogie return to the starting lineup sometime later this week.
As for the Nuggets, the only big name to pop up on their injury report is Michael Porter, Jr., who will be out for an undisclosed period of time due to health and safety protocols related to COVID-19 contact tracing.
Our good friend John Meyer will be live and on the scene tonight to cover Timberwolves/Nuggets, so be sure to follow him over at @thedailywolf on Twitter. Outside of all that, thanks as always for making Canis Hoopus your preferred destination for talking hoops, politics, chili recipes, and cabernets.