Preview: Denver Nuggets wrap up homestand against Timberwolves

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The familiar sights of Pepsi Center have been a welcome reprieve for the Denver Nuggets over the past week, who will look to go 5-0 on this homestand when they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.

Although the wins during this homestand haven’t always been pretty, Denver’s offense has picked up during this stretch as Nikola Jokić has found his form during the month of December (he is averaging 19.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game).

Denver (18-8) will be looking for a second win over the Timberwolves this season. The first matchup between the two teams was a memorable affair. After the Nuggets went scoreless for the final 6:41 in regulation, Jokić bailed the team out with a fading jumper with 2.4 seconds left in overtime to allow Denver to escape with a win.

The Timberwolves (10-16) have struggled mightily, losing eight-straight and counting. Karl Anthony-Towns missed Minnesota’s game against the Pelicans on Wednesday and is considered day-to-day ahead of Friday’s contest.

Here are three keys to Friday’s matchup:

Exploiting the mid-range

A key reason for the Timberwolves’ losing streak over the past couple of weeks has been their inability to defend. Minnesota ranks dead last in defensive rating over the past two weeks (per Cleaning the Glass), which has sunk their offense, which has maintained an above-average offensive rating during this stretch.

Minnesota does a good job limiting 3-point attempts for their opponents (just 31.4 percent of their opponent’s shots have come from deep this season, which ranks second in the league). However, the Timberwolves are vulnerable in the mid-range, which is where the Nuggets thrive.

Nearly 34 percent of Minnesota’s opponent’s shots have come from this part of the floor against Minnesota this season, while Denver ranks third in the frequency of shots coming from the mid-range. Look for Jamal Murray and the Nuggets to attack inside the arc and find their spots from the mid-range.

Defending the 3-point line

In the first matchup between the two teams, Minnesota attempted 45 3-pointers. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, they only connected on six of those attempts. However, the 3-pointer has been a staple of Minnesota’s offense this season. The Timberwolves rank fifth in the league in 3-pointers attempted per game this season, as they hoist up 38.6 per contest.

Although they have not been able to convert at a high rate this season (Minnesota’s 32.7 percent ranks 29th in the NBA), Denver will have to close out strong and chase Minnesota’s shooters off the line. The Nuggets are first in the league in opponent 3-point percentage, as opponents have only connected on 30.6 percent of their shots from beyond the arc against Denver this season.

Defending homecourt

For a Nuggets team looking to finish at or near the top of the Western Conference this season, taking care of business at home is one of the first steps in achieving that goal. Friday’s game will be Denver’s 16th at Pepsi Center this season, compared to just 11 on the road at this point. Of course, the Nuggets will eventually play the same amount of home and road games this season, which further increases the urgency to rack up wins at home early in the year.

Minnesota is no pushover on the road, as their 7-6 record away from home is one of the better marks in the Western Conference. Look for the Nuggets to come out strong and wrap up their homestand with a fifth-consecutive win.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

Friday’s game will tip-off at 7 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude (Radio: 92.5FM).

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