Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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NBA Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (50-22) at Denver Nuggets (51-22)

Denver’s road to its first NBA championship last year began with a first-round win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, a series that former Nuggets forward Bruce Brown said was Denver’s toughest matchup.

The Nuggets won that series in five games but Brown, now with the Toronto Raptors, might have seen something in Minnesota’s play. The Timberwolves have evolved from a play-in team in 2023 to fighting for the top seed in the Western Conference with three weeks left in the regular season.

On Friday night, Minnesota and the Nuggets meet in Denver, a game that will have a significant impact on the seedings in the crowded Western Conference standings.

The Timberwolves (50-22) are tied with Oklahoma City, a half-game behind the Nuggets (51-22) for the top seed in the West. This is the second meeting in a little more than a week between the teams, with one more on April 10.

The teams have split the two games played in Minneapolis, with the Timberwolves winning 110-98 on Nov. 1 and Denver getting even last week, 115-112.

Minnesota has won six of seven, including its past three games, since Karl-Anthony Towns underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, with the only loss coming against the Nuggets on March 19. The Timberwolves have more than survived Towns’ injury thanks to the play of Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert.

Gobert, acquired from Utah in a blockbuster trade before last season, has averaged 13.7 rebounds and 12.3 points a game since returning from a left rib injury last week. He missed the 115-112 loss to Denver but has been impactful over the last three games.

The Timberwolves will need him against MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, who was a rebound shy of another triple-double against Phoenix on Wednesday night despite battling low back and hip pain.

The Nuggets lost 104-97 to the Suns, just their third loss in the 18 games since the All-Star break. Jamal Murray missed his third straight game due to right knee inflammation.

Denver has prioritized health over earning the top seed in the Western Conference so the team is being cautious with Murray. He and Jokic didn’t play in a win at Portland on Saturday night and Nuggets coach Michael Malone could give Jokic more time off in the last nine games to make sure he’s healthy heading into the postseason.

Denver had won four in a row before Wednesday, two of those without Murray, but the offense didn’t play well against Phoenix. The Nuggets hit just 25 percent of their 3-point attempts and Michael Porter Jr., one of the team’s best shooters from deep, was 2-for-7 from deep.

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