Preview: Nuggets look to bounce back vs. Timberwolves in MLK Day NBA showcase
Less than 24 hours after suffering a disappointing defeat to the Pacers, the Nuggets (29-13) will be looking to make amends against the Timberwolves (15-27) on Martin Luther King Day.
Denver’s loss on Sunday saw it drop from second place in the Western Conference standings to a tie at third with the Utah Jazz, who are also 29-13. Denver played an encouraging first half against Indiana, holding the opposition to 44 points after the opening two quarters. Things fell apart for the Nuggets in the second half though. Indiana scored 71 points in the final 24 minutes, including 41 in the fourth quarter. Denver now heads to Minneapolis hoping to turn things around against a struggling opponent.
“It’s the best, worst thing about this league. You don’t have any highs or any lows…we have a game tomorrow, so that’s what we have to focus in on,” PJ Dozier said after the loss to the Pacers.
The Timberwolves have lost five straight and are 3-7 in their last 10 games. Injuries have played a role with star Karl-Anthony Towns returning to the starting five on Jan. 17 after missing 14 games. With the team now sitting 13th in the Western Conference at the midway point of the season, this appears to be a group in transition. Minnesota recently traded away their starting point guard Jeff Teague for three-point specialist Allen Crabbe, opening minutes for Shabazz Napier at the position.
Denver has won the first two games of the season series against its Northwest division rival and is on a six-game winning streak against Minnesota.
Projected starters: Monte Morris, Will Barton III, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant and Nikola Jokić
TUNE IN: 6 p.m. MT, TV: ALTITUDE, RADIO: KKSE 92.5FM/950AM
Here are the storylines to watch for:
Attack early and often
The Timberwolves are 26th in opponent points per game (114.7) and are allowing teams to score 49 points per game inside the paint (20th). If there was one thing the Nuggets did well offensively Sunday, it was attacking the rim as they scored 64 points in the paint against the Pacers, one of the NBA’s better defensive teams. They should look to do more of the same at Target Center Monday.
In the Timberwolves’ last defeat on Jan. 18, they allowed the Raptors, who are 21st in scoring in the paint (46.8 ppg), to drop 58 points inside. Denver is fifth in the NBA in points in the paint (50.2). If the team can be aggressive from the start, it could open up some long-range shooting opportunities for the visitors.
Monte’s scoring touch
Monte Morris is one of the most efficient facilitators in the NBA, with the guard sitting second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 5.71. With Jamal Murray still sidelined with an ankle injury, the Nuggets could get a boost if Morris’ shot gets back to where it was earlier in January.
Prior to Murray’s injury on Jan. 15, Morris was averaging 10.4 points per game and shooting an impressive 41.7 percent from downtown. In the last two games, when Morris was the starter, he is shooting 25 percent from the field.
Historically, Morris has raised his production when filling in as the starting point guard. Last year in seven starts, he averaged 15 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 55.4 percent overall and 43.5 percent from downtown. If the Nuggets can get a performance of that level against the T’Wolves Monday, it would help their chances of securing a victory.
Defend the three-point shot
The Nuggets unraveled Sunday because they allowed the Pacers to connect on five of their nine attempts from downtown in the fourth quarter. They can’t afford a repeat showing Monday.
The Timberwolves rely heavily on the three, taking 39.3 shots (third in the NBA) from deep a game. Although they struggle to convert on three-pointers at a high percentage, shooting 32.5 percent (29th in the NBA), they are third in the league at three-point field goal frequency at 42.8 percent. In the team’s 15 wins, the team converted at a respectable 34.9 percent.
The Nuggets have struggled to defend the three-point shot over their last three games, allowing opponents to shoot 41.3 percent (27th). Failing to improve in that area could spell disaster in Monday’s matchup.