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Nuggets 123, Timberwolves 116: The Same, But Different Again

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Weren’t we just here? Didn’t this just happen?

DENVER NUGGETS VS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, NBA

I had so many great headline ideas for this recap:

  • Not-Cho Average Hernangomez
  • Vander-Built for the Nuggets
  • D-Load Nuggets

But here we are.

Early on, it looked like it was going to be a repeat of Sunday’s game. The Nuggets looked to step on the throats of the Timberwolves nonexistent defense early on. That would mean the Wolves offense would have to keep up, right? Well, what if I told you that we had to rely on Juancho Hernangomez?

As one would expect, that alone would not be enough. At one point, it looked like the Nuggets were just playing pickup basketball around out there. They’d easily build a 16-point lead and looked like they were going to sleepwalk to another victory.

Less than 17 minutes in, Denver’s lead would hit 18. The Wolves continued to flounderand salt would be poured in the wounds as the Wolves bigs got into foul trouble early.

But then Anthony Edwards dropped this:

The tale goes like this: Ant dunked so flynning hard that it woke the Timberwolves up from their 10-day slumber. Following that dunk, the Wolves would go on a 28-10 run which was fueled by Juancho treys, D’Lo free throws, and most importantly, the savior of the Wolves PF problems, Jeffenstein Adrien Jarred Vanderbilt. In just 9 minutes of play in the second quarter alone, Vando put up 3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block, leading the Wolves with a +15 (!) point differential.

Perhaps the most important impact that Jarred had on the game, other than his infectious energy and hustle, was what he turned Nikola Jokic into. The 3rd best European passing big man of all-time, who was having yet another whale of a game (11/8/4 for the half), got completely flustered. He was in midseason form with his yelping for fouls, but Jarred’s mind games got Jokic out of character.

How out of character? Jokic did a chin-up after a dunk (Yes, he had the strength to do so) which drew a technical foul. After failing to draw a whistle later on, he was T’d up again (Apparently the chin-up T didn’t count against his ejection limit). Lastly, Jokic’s frustration boiled up after he was called for an offensive foul while trying to establish position in an early transition situation. He exploded at the referee who had just T’d him up previously and was nearly tossed.

Credit where credit is also due. Juancho continued his aggressive scoring mentality (Still feels weird) and notched 20 points on 8/11 shooting in the first half, helping the Wolves gain a 3-point lead going into the halftime break. A 43-point quarter for Minnesota!

Juancho’s explosion would continue in the 2nd half.

Hernangomez continued to play with a ton of confidence (Armchair psychologist alert!), scoring on a plethora of moves. He drilled treys. He scored with timely cuts. He took defenders off the dribble. He used wily up-and-under moves. At one point, I think he dunked from halfcourt with 5 defenders hanging onto him.

As a team as experienced as Denver is, they would be able to keep it close. Unlike the previous 4 games, it appeared the Wolves would have an answer to each Nuggets run. Ant had some moments in this period as well, including a big bail out three-pointer followed by a hard take on Jokic, to score 5 in a row. Meanwhile Vando was continuing to do it all out there. At one point, single-handedly demolishing every Nugget player with his defense and rebounding.

Just like Sunday’s game, we battled back from the early deficit and held a small lead heading into the final period. I was sure things weren’t just the same, but that they were different! Edwards took flight to start the 4th, scoring on a pair of beautiful takes in the paint.

Unfortunately, that was all we would see out of him. Just when it looked like he was going to put Denver out of their misery, he reminded us that he’s just a rookie as he would fumble the ball over on a multitude of possessions. Reid would also have a tough stretch (or night, for that matter) as he was completely overmatched against Jokic to start the 4th. Like a well-oiled machine, the veteran Nuggets team would not only erase the deficit, but take an 8-point lead as the Wolves would lose the magic they had in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Was this January 3rd all over again?

Once again, one of the bright spots was the play of Jarred Vanderbilt. Despite coming back into the game with his team down 8, he would fight to try and keep the Wolves within shouting distance.

They would have a few shots to cut the lead down to 2 with a couple minutes remaining, but Russell and Beasley would each miss hero three-pointers. That would be as close as it would get, as the Nuggets offense continued to march along as the Wolves faded.

Final score, 123 to 116. Another loss? Yep. Moral victory? Sure. But as many of you are, I too am tired of the losing. This game alone wasn’t a disappointment, but the cumulative product has been thus far. It’s still early in the season and, I hate to say it, we’re still missing our best player. When his return will be is still a question mark.

However I’m proud of the guys today. Mostly Jarred Vanderbilt and Juancho Hernangomez. On to the next one at Portland on Thursday.

Game notes:

  • D’Angelo Russell had a great box score night. He finished with 33 points, 3 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, all on 47.6% shooting. His performance tonight would’ve been great had it not been for the 1st and 4th quarters. The Nuggets broadcasters were (rightfully?) blasting him, mentioning this lovely stat at the start of the game. Out of every player in the NBA, Russell is a league worst -114. He was a +1 tonight.
  • Defensive intensity turned up on Malik Beasley who was slow to adapt early on. He was ice cold from perimeter (0/6) and finished with just 15 points, although he chipped in 6 boards and 4 assists. Again, he played a game-high 38 minutes which supports Ryan Saunders’ claim that he’s in great shape.
  • I didn’t want to say it, but Ricky Rubio is still lost out there. He had yet another weird game where he was making plenty of mistakes (-18!). This criticism only comes because of the standard I/we expect out of him. Although he’s hardly the lone problem, Ricky was making me change my face for the worse tonight.
  • Facundo Campazzo was/is/will always be a pest. He’s like a super charged JJ Barea with much more control of his game. He played a career-high 26 minutes tonight, even taking primary PG duties away from Jamal Murray for much of the game. It was also evident via eye test that the Nuggets were much stronger on defense with him out on the floor over Murray.
  • The biggest thing that would’ve changed this game was if Nikola Jokic got tossed in that first half. He took a nice Sunday stroll and still finished with a 35/15/6 line, 4 stocks, 2 dunks, 2 technical fouls, and 0 ejections. Jeez.
  • I would say JaMychal Green had the MPE again with 17 points on 8 shots (!), but he just had 14 the other day against us. His career average is 8.1 points.

Full game highlights: