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Northwest Division Preview: Timberwolves vs. Nuggets

We conclude our Northwest Division Preview series by examining how the Timberwolves stack up against the Denver Nuggets.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets

As we enter the last official day before the Minnesota Timberwolves kick off their 2021-22 season at home against the Houston Rockets, let’s take a look at how the hometown team stacks up against the last team in our Northwest Division Preview series: the Denver Nuggets.

Denver is coming off a second round exit in last year’s NBA playoffs against the Phoenix Suns, where they lost 4-0, as they played without their starting point guard Jamal Murray. Their MVP center Nikola Jokic is also coming off a career season, as he averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists last year. Denver enters the upcoming season with their core, which includes Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and now Aaron Gordon as well (the former Orlando Magic forward who was acquired at last season’s trade deadline).

The Nuggets and Timberwolves have always been one of the more enjoyable rivalries in the league recently, including the game which crowned the Wolves the 8 seed a few years back, so let’s take a deeper dive at how these two teams match up against each other this year.

Denver Nuggets 2021 Offseason

In terms of offseason transactions, the Nuggets did lose forward Paul Millsap, who had given Minnesota problems throughout the years that he was in Denver. The 36-year old power forward averaged 11.8 points and was a key part of their rotation, but much like a handful of other free agents, he ultimately chose to play for the Brooklyn Nets this season. Millsap gave Denver a much needed veteran presence over the years — both on and off the court — so his absence will likely be missed as the Nuggets look to contend in 2021-22.

In addition to Millsap, Denver also lost JaVale McGee and Shaquille Harrison, but did make some notable additions in Jeff Green and Bones Hyland, who had an impressive showing against the Wolves last week during the preseason.

Jeff Green should be a serviceable replacement for Millsap, since he provides the defense and scoring needed to fill that role. In 68 games with the Nets last season, Green averaged 11.0 points per game and shot 41.2% from three. Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland is another player they signed to a full contract after drafting him with the 26th pick and he also averaged about 15 points per game, providing another player who can score for the Denver Nuggets.

On top of those transactions, Denver also re-signed some of their own key free agents, including Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, JaMychal Green, Michael Porter, Jr. and Austin Rivers.

In the Wolves’ second preseason game, which was against the Denver Nuggets, we saw a highly competitive game which came down to the wire. What should we expect when these two teams face off in the regular season?

Matching Up Against The Nuggets

Heading into the 75th season of the NBA, along with the other teams in the NBA, the Wolves have yet to make a real statement against the Denver Nuggets. They are 49-84 all time against Denver, and are currently on a 11-game losing streak against them in the regular season as well. Surely, with this current roster and the defensive capabilities Minnesota has added during the offseason, the Wolves could look to snap that streak when the two teams square off at the end of this month.

The starting lineup for the Denver Nuggets this season is projected to be Monte Morris, Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter, Jr., and P.J. Dozier. Even without Jamal Murray, this is going to be one of the more tough teams to beat during the season.

Like we saw in the preseason matchup, the Timberwolves did a fairly solid job against Nikola Jokic. When Nikola Jokic was posted up on the block against Karl-Anthony Towns, there was always a player on the help side (whether that be Malik Beasley, D’Angelo Russell, or Anthony Edwards), and when Jokic would make a pass, Minnesota’s rotations appeared to be much quicker and more connected than we’ve seen in recent years.

What I also saw in that game — especially on drives with Aaron Gordon or Michael Porter, Jr. — was that the help side would always be waiting in or near the paint, which led to an increase in forced turnovers. I saw this a lot when Patrick Beverley or Josh Okogie were on the court with the second unit, which was also the group that led the comeback for the Wolves. In order to have a really good chance against Jokic and the Nuggets, the Wolves should stick with this defensive scheme. I also see them doing this against other teams with dominant low-post players, like the 76ers (with Joel Embiid) and the Lakers (with Anthony Davis).

On the offensive end, look for the Wolves to run the high PNR between DLO and KAT, which we saw quite often against paint protecting bigs in the preseason. Don’t get me wrong, Nikola Jokic is a very talented player, but on the defensive end, the Wolves have to attack him, as he won’t come up to the perimeter. The keys to beating the Nuggets start on defense and that energy will then transfer over to the offensive end.

(As you can see in the video, there is always help side when Jokic attacks the rim)

Much like other NW Division opponents, the Minnesota Timberwolves play the Denver Nuggets four times this upcoming season, with the first one being October 30 in Minnesota. I look forward to this matchup between these two rivals, as this could *potentially* be a playoff matchup we see next spring/summer (one can dream!)

What are your predictions for what we could expect out of this Northwest Division foe this upcoming season?