Preview: Denver Nuggets look to extend winning streak against Timberwolves
There won’t be much time for the Denver Nuggets to reflect on their history-making fourth-quarter comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday. One day off separates Friday’s game with an early afternoon matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
Denver (6-2) has won three-consecutive games for the second time this season, though Friday’s win didn’t come without its fair share of struggles. The Nuggets fell behind by 21 early in the fourth quarter, as Philadelphia’s defense was forcing tough shot after tough shot. However, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić led the way in the final frame. Murray racked up eight assists in the quarter, while Jokić outscored the 76ers 16-13 in the quarter.
Minnesota (5-3) enters Sunday’s matchup off the heels of a thrilling overtime win against the Golden State Warriors on Friday. Andrew Wiggins led the way with 40 points, continuing his impressive start to the season. With Wiggins (24.6 points per game) and Karl-Anthony Towns (25.7 points per game), the Timberwolves have two clear-cut options on the offensive end down the stretch of a game.
The Nuggets swept the four-game season series between the two teams last year, but the Timberwolves are focused on making a playoff push now that Robert Covington is healthy and the drama caused by the Jimmy Butler situation has dissipated.
Here are some keys to Sunday’s game:
An All-Star matchup down low
For the second consecutive game, Jokić will face another All-Star center. After the Serbian big man was able to get the best of Joel Embiid and the 76ers, his attention must now turn to Towns, who is off to a hot start.
In addition to his 25.7 points, Towns is averaging 12.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.7 steals and blocks per game, all on 63.6 true shooting percentage. Minnesota’s offense is 9.6 points per 100 possessions better when their All-Star big man is on the floor, so look for his minutes to increase if the game is close.
The Nuggets hope that Jokić’s fourth quarter against Philadelphia will be just what he needed to find his rhythm on the offensive end. “He's a quiet guy, but he's real competitive,” Nuggets forward Will Barton III said following Friday’s win. “Once the game gets physical and down to the wire, you see it come out of him.”
Another impressive performance from Jokić against an elite big man should put all doubts and concerns to rest.
Contrasting shot distributions
Minnesota’s offense focuses on getting shots at the rim or from beyond the arc. After eight games, the Timberwolves rank sixth in the frequency of 3-point attempts and 11th in percentage of shots coming around the rim. As a result, Minnesota is 24th in the frequency of mid-range shots, which is where the Nuggets look to find success.
Denver ranks fifth in the frequency of mid-range shots, but just 19th in frequency of shots coming around the rim and 27th in frequency of 3-point attempts. Where the Nuggets can take advantage on offense is the Timberwolves’ desire to give up mid-range shots, as they rank 26th in the league in their opponent’s frequency of mid-range attempts.
Denver’s mid-range shooting could prove to be crucial given Minnesota’s ability to run shooters off the 3-point line and deter players around the rim. The Timberwolves are fourth in their opponent’s frequency of 3-point attempts (surrendering just 30.7 percent of shots from deep) and 11th in their opponent’s frequency of shots around the rim.
Can Denver’s offense find its footing?
The Timberwolves don’t present the same challenges that the 76ers did on the defensive end. Minnesota ranks 17th on that end of the floor, and while they do thrive in causing turnovers (seventh-highest opponent turnover percentage), teams are have a lot of success making shots against their defense.
Opponents have shot 44.4 percent from the mid-range against the Timberwolves, which ranks 28th in the league. Move beyond the 3-point line and it gets even worse for Minnesota, as opponents have connected on 39 percent of their 3-point attempts this season, good for 29th in the league.
Although Denver’s offense continued to struggle on Friday, the Timberwolves present a good opportunity to move the ball effectively in order to find the open shot. As long as the Nuggets take care of the ball, they should be able to find offensive success on Sunday.
Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić
Sunday’s game will tip at 1:30 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude (Radio: KKSE 92.5 FM).