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Playoff Game Preview #5: Wolves vs. Nuggets

Anthony Edwards and the Wolves look to make it 3-0 in elimination games this season as Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets seek to close it out in Denver.

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Four Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets (Series 3-1, Nuggets)
  • When: 8:00 PM CT
  • Where: Ball Arena (Denver, CO)
  • Local TV: Bally Sports North Extra
  • National TV: NBA TV
  • Radio: WCCO (AM 830)
  • Line: Wolves +10 | Total: 220 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report



  • Jaylen Nowell — Left Knee Tendinopathy


  • Jaden McDaniels — Right Hand Fracture
  • Naz Reid — Left Scaphoid Fracture
  • Kyle Anderson — Left Eye Injury


Nothing to report

What to Watch For

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Four Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Let Jokić Cook

In game four, Nikola Jokić torched the Timberwolves with 43 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists on 57.7/62.5/66.7 shooting splits. He looked like the two-time reigning MVP, and it was also the best the Timberwolves have looked in this series. Before the playoffs began, I broke down how Minnesota would be better off taking away everyone else and forcing Jokić to be a scoring machine. This was the first full game in this series where they did that.

If the Wolves want to have a chance to further extend this series, they need to have a similar defensive approach. A slight alteration would be to not give Jokić completely wide-open threes again, but the rest of the defense must stay home on their assignments. Taking away Jokić’s playmaking and ability to get everyone else in a rhythm is crucial. While he’s more than capable of prolific scoring outbursts, his preferred approach is to get everyone else involved. By not helping on Jokić, the Timberwolves forced Jokić into his worst assist-to-turnover ratio of the series.

Additionally, they kept everyone else to a modest scoring night. Jamal Murray finished with 19 points (is averaging 25.3 in the playoffs), 5 assists, 3 turnovers, and 38.1/28.6 shooting splits with only one free throw. Michael Porter Jr finished with 15 points (averaging 18.5 in the playoffs) and 9 of those came in the fourth quarter. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished with only 5 points, half of his playoff average, and Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown scored right around their playoff average. Jokić is an insane talent who is impossible to eliminate from a game. However, if the Timberwolves can again take away his surrounding pieces and eliminate his playmaking, they could have a shot.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Win the Bench Minutes

In Game 4, the Timberwolves’ bench finally showed up as they outscored the Nuggets’ bench 22 to 12. In the regular season, the Nuggets had a net rating that was 24.8 points higher when Jokić was on the court than when he was off (100th percentile), per Cleaning the Glass. Denver consistently lost their non-Jokić minutes in a landslide.

In the playoffs, though, this narrative has completely flipped. Denver instead has a Jokić on/off net rating differential of -22.8. Not only have the Nuggets been able to survive the non-Jokić minutes, but they’ve thrived. The main reason has been because of their defensive rating being 28.5 points per 100 possessions better when Jokić is off the court.

For a team lauded for their size (I know Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels are out) the Wolves have done a horrendous job of capitalizing against the bench lineup that is running out Jeff Green at center. In the play-in game, we saw how the Timberwolves overwhelmed the Thunder with their size advantage. The same thing needs to happen for Minnesota to have a chance tonight. Missing the experience, size, versatility, and maturity of Kyle Anderson is a crushing blow, but if they can make the Green at center minutes unplayable, they’ll be able to at least keep it close, force the Nuggets to play DeAndre Jordan, and eliminate a lot of their versatility.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Forget Offensive Rebounding

Enough is enough. This Timberwolves’ transition defense is going to start giving fans serious health issues. Whether it’s off of makes or misses or turnovers, the Wolves are constantly gifting the Nuggets free points simply because they don’t run back on defense.

This is nothing new for Minnesota as they had the 18th transition defense off of live rebounds allowing 1.224 points per play (PPP), but at least they ranked sixth in frequency (26.8%). This series things have somehow gotten worse. The Nuggets are running in transition off of live rebounds 31.9% of the time and scoring 1.39 PPP. Constant inattention to detail puts the Wolves in a spot where they give up big leads or allow Denver to substantially inflate their lead.

The Timberwolves haven’t been a good offensive rebounding team all season either. In the regular season, their offensive rebounding rate of 25.8 ranked 26th, and in the playoffs it has fallen to 21.8 (13th out of 16). There aren’t any excuses left for them that can possibly justify their horrid transition defense. If the offensive rebounding numbers were significantly better, there would be an argument that it’s a fair tradeoff, but they aren’t. Once a shot goes up, the entire team needs to just focus on getting back to set up the defense.