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Game Preview 7: Wolves vs Nuggets

The Wolves play round two against the Nuggets

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Minnesota Timberwolves (2-4) vs Denver Nuggets (2-4)
8:00 CST

In this pandemic season, teams are playing more double-headers against the same team. The Wolves have their first of the season against the Denver Nuggets, playing in Denver after losing on Sunday in Minnesota. For most teams, these games offer the smallest taste of the playoffs, where coaches make game-to-game adjustments and matchups become all the more important as teams become familiar with each other.

However, for this version of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the main question is whether the team will lose by more than 20 points.

The Timberwolves without Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie appear to be the worst team in the NBA by a comfortable margin. That is a startling indictment against the front office, coaching staff, and the remaining players, particularly those who are not first or second-year players learning on the job. This iteration of the Wolves is a far cry from the Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, and Karl-Anthony Towns years. This team may be as young, the core is commanding a full salary cap load.

Regardless, there is another game tonight. It seems folly to imagine a Timberwolves victory, as the 4th quarter of the last matchup highlighted how quickly the Wolves can be picked apart when the Nuggets run the offense through Jokic. The Wolves were able to keep the game close only when Jokic was in foul trouble and it's no wonder he ended up +27 on the night. Rather, we can watch a few things on our ongoing “how bad are the Timberwolves series.”

First, which D’Angelo Russell will we see tonight? After mounting criticism, Russell finally looked like the player the Wolves have been touting during the 3rd quarter against the Nuggets. The Russell and Ed Davis pick and rolls generated the momentum Russell needs to get clean looks, pressure the paint, and make passes. But, outside of that role, Russell still needs to be able to contribute. If he is unable to do so, we will likely see the continued staggering of Russell and Rubio. However, if this the long-term solution, this is immediately complicated by the need to stagger Russell and Malik Beasley due to defensive concerns.

Second, can the Wolves make perimeter rotations on defense? We have about four years of evidence that the answer to this question is no, but the Wolves need to close out to have a chance of keeping the game close. Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, and Facundo Campazzo killed the Wolves last game, shooting a combined 10-22. The Nuggets have a ton of shooters and a deluge of threes will make the game quickly out of reach.

Finally, how can the Wolves continue to give Anthony Edwards more opportunities? In the second quarter, Ricky Rubio, Anthony Edwards, and Naz Reid decimated the Nuggets’ second unit. Ant showed his passing chops, which is perhaps the most impressive part of his game thus far. However, he needs to have more opportunities to attack the Nuggets defense, particularly when a smaller player is switched onto him.

Projected Starting Lineups

Denver Nuggets

Jamal Murray
Gary Harris
Will Barton
Paul Millsap
Nikola Jokic

Minnesota Timberwolves

D’Angelo Russell
Malik Beasley
Jarrett Culver
Juancho Hernangomez
Ed Davis