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Maturing Nuggets eye payback against the Timberwolves

Denver can avenge one of only three home losses with victory over Minnesota

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried and his teammates will try to rise above the Timberwolves at Pepsi Center on Saturday.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

As the Nuggets gathered at center court at the end of practice Friday, coach George Karl gave them a trivia question.

“Who are the only three teams to beat us at home this year?” he asked.

Without hesitation, the players answered in unison.

“Miami, Minnesota, Washington.”

“Who are we playing tomorrow?”

“Minnesota.”

When you are tied for the best home record (27-3) in the NBA, the rare setbacks tend to stick in the memory bank.

The Timberwolves (21-37) are one of three visitors to leave Denver with a victory this season. Playing the final 16 minutes without injured All-Star big man Kevin Love on Jan. 3, Minnesota erased a 10-point third-quarter deficit to snap Denver’s eight-game home winning streak.

Two months later, the Nuggets (41-22) have won seven in a row overall and 12 in a row at Pepsi Center. They are determined not to let the T-Wolves catch them sleeping as they make their push for playoff seeding.

“We can’t take them lightly,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson said. “That’s what we did in the first game. Kevin Love got hurt and we let our guard down. They came in and beat us. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder this time and we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Over a two-month stretch, the Nuggets have shown a maturity that was missing somewhat early in the season.

Lawson has accepted more responsibility as a leader in the huddle and on the court. Over his past 25 games, he is averaging 20.8 points and 7.6 assists while playing with soaring confidence.

His backcourt mate Andre Iguodala also is getting more comfortable with his role as a leader, scorer and playmaker. He has handed out at least six assists in seven of nine games since the All-Star break.

From Iguodala and Lawson to Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee, the Nuggets are filled with examples of young players coming into their own heading into the final 19 games of the season.

“I think they’re growing up in front of us,” Karl said. “They’re understanding there’s 400 (NBA) athletes out there trying to get better every day. Most of them are. If you dally behind, you have a chance of losing your opportunity.”

After leaving the arena shortly before midnight following Thursday night’s win against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Nuggets returned Friday morning in good spirits.

After watching film, the players and coaches shared smiles and laughs during an hour-long workout on the practice court. Karl then brought the team together to remember the challenge ahead.

The Nuggets are fighting for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and they have a chance to finish as high as third in the Western Conference.

“Celebrate the good things, but the NBA never has much time for celebration,” Karl said. “You have to be very focused.

“We’re in a marathon right now and we can’t stumble. Winning the games you’re supposed to win at a high level is extremely important.”


TIMBERWOLVES AT NUGGETS


WHEN:
7 p.m. MT
WHERE: Pepsi Center, Denver
TV; RADIO: Altitude; 104.3 FM, AM-950

PROBABLE STARTERS
DENVER

F Danilo Gallinari
F Kenneth Faried
C Kosta Koufos
G Andre Iguodala
G Ty Lawson

MINNESOTA
F Mickael Gelabale
F Derrick Williams
C Greg Stiemsma
G Luke Ridnour
G Ricky Rubio

INJURY REPORT
DENVER:
No injuries to report.
MINNESOTA: Andre Kirilenko (strained calf) and Nikola Pekovic (abdominal strain) are doubtful; Chase Budingers (knee), Malcolm Lee (knee), Kevin Love (broken hand) and Brandon Roy (knee) are out.

SERIES NOTES
The Nuggets have won 25 of the last 32 meetings overall with the Wolves, dating back to the end of the 2004-05 season – including 20 of the last 24 … Since the start of the 2005-06, Denver has gone 12-3 at Pepsi Center against Minnesota … Since 2004-05, Denver has gone 13-5 at the Target Center in Minneapolis … The Nuggets have five-straight season series wins against the Wolves, as well as six in the last seven years … On 12/10/08, former Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony tied an NBA record by scoring 33 points in the third quarter against the Timberwolves in Denver … In the first meeting between these teams in 2010-11, Kevin Love hung 43 points on the Nuggets to become the first ever Timberwolves player to score 40+ points against Denver during the regular season.