2024 Playoffs: West Semifinals | Nuggets (2) vs. Timberwolves (3)

4 things to look for in Nuggets-Wolves Game 7

Here's what you need to know before the win-or-go-home showdown in the Western Conference semifinals.

Anthony Edwards scores 27 points and Minnesota staves off elimination with a dominant Game 6 win.

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DENVER — If the pattern of this Western Conference semifinal stays true to the very end, then Rudy Gobert will win Game 7 on a 35-foot jumper at the buzzer to slay the defending champs.

Because, why not?

“This series has been weird for the both of us,” said Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. “We take two on their court, they take two on ours, they hold on their court in a big win, we win big on ours. Someone has to break the trend in Game 7.”

You would think so. The Nuggets and Wolves arrived at this point by doing what they do best, with a few unexpected twists thrown in. But this is 7th Heaven. In these situations, common sense — and the better team— usually prevails.

This game will reveal the truth about the teams, coaches and players; their decision-making and ability to deal with the urgency will ultimately determine their respective fates. There’s no hiding in a Game 7. It’s all stripped naked.

As Wolves guard Mike Conley said: “You’ll get everyone’s best shot.”

Here are four things to look for in a Game 7 on Sunday that’s expected to be a tense affair:

1. Jamal Murray needs to shake Ant, aches

The second-best player and designated go-to guy in the clutch for the Nuggets is dealing with a few issues:

  • Anthony Edwards crowding him on defense
  • A sore elbow and calf muscle

It’s hard to determine which is the greater annoyance for Murray, who fell into a deep funk in Game 6 and, quite honestly, hasn’t been consistently superb during this series (or the entire playoffs). Murray does have this going for him — he tends to rise to the occasion.

And what an occasion awaits him Sunday. In the event of a tight game, Jokic usually yields to Murray, who’ll fly off screens and square up for mid-range jumpers (just ask Anthony Davis).

Well, Murray must deal with his body being pushed through a seventh game coming off a single off-day, with Edwards (along with Jaden McDaniels) sticking to him like a bad rumor. In this situation, maybe Murray deserves the benefit of the doubt. But a sore elbow and a determined Edwards? This will be a close call.

“I just got to get better and be ready for Sunday,” he said.

That being said …

2. KAT on Joker will impact the outcome

This game probably won’t be close late in the fourth quarter if Jokic does Jokic things for 3 1/2 quarters. Meaning, being an offensive force by shooting and passing. When that happens, the Nuggets usually hold the upper hand (and, last year, the Larry O’Brien trophy as well).

But Towns has done a credible job on Jokic in this series, or as decent as anyone can possibly do. Towns brings a bigger body than Gobert, and seems to be smart about when to get physical and when to steer clear of the referee’s whistle.

This is what the Wolves had in mind when they swung the Gobert trade a few years ago, giving them a pair of bigs who can create matchup issues for the other team, even a team like Denver. Especially Denver.

With Towns crowding Jokic and Gobert acting as a free safety who roams the paint and applies help when needed, the Wolves provide the best defense against Jokic by anyone not named Joel Embiid.

Keep in mind that Jokic, over his past four postseason series, dismantled Anthony Davis twice and Bam Adebayo. If Minnesota doesn’t stop him, then no one will this postseason.

3. Ant seems built for this

Young superstars-in-the-making are so busy carving out a reputation for themselves that they don’t notice what they’re up against.

“I’ve never been in a Game 7,” Edwards said.

That doesn’t mean Edwards won’t be prepared for a Game 7. And the smart money says the bright lights will mean nothing to him; that has been the case throughout this postseason.

Edwards chopped up the Suns and Kevin Durant in the first round. In this series, he has outplayed everyone except Jokic. Besides, his easy-going, folksy nature seems unshakable by pressure, and that is paired with the snarl he brings to the court.

Expect Edwards to meet the challenge of playing the defending champs in a do-or-die, on the road, before a hyped crowd, with the Wolves’ season at stake. Anything less would be a surprise.

4. A role player to the rescue

In these situations, it’s not unusual for a player who isn’t bold-faced on the marquee to throw the game for a loop by making a play or two to decide the outcome.

So, who are the nominees?

Let’s start with McDaniels, whose defense is causing headaches for the Nuggets. The Wolves were smart for locking him up with an extension last summer.

It could be Naz Reid, winner of the Kia NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, who brings a layer of defense against Jokic and drops 3-point shots. Maybe Conley, a veteran starved for a shot at a first title, if his calf holds up.

For the Nuggets: Christian Braun’s defense at times has been a problem for Edwards. Justin Holiday has had only one game of significance in this series, but if he hits uncontested 3-point shots early, the Wolves must adjust.

But if anything, this game craves something from Michael Porter Jr., a nearly invisible man, who has scored fewer than 10 points in three of the last four games. Porter was efficient and deadly in the first round, and now, the Nuggets are begging for a flashback.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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