Preview: Nuggets take on familiar faces against Timberwolves in Minnesota

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Nuggets (1-3) didn’t tip off the New Year in the way they would have wanted against the Phoenix Suns. Sunday presents an opportunity to get back on track against an injury-impacted Timberwolves (2-3) team.

Denver has been out of sync on both ends of the floor in the early going of the season but showed some positive signs against Phoenix in the final eight minutes of their 106-103 loss. The Nuggets rallied back from 16 down to take a one-point lead against their opposition. Unfortunately, they couldn’t hold on before losing by three. It will be essential for the team to be aggressive early and often to end its two-game slide.

 

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

Injury Report:

OUT: Michael Porter Jr, health and safety protocols, away from the team

Greg Whittington, left calf strain

Here are the storylines to watch:

TUNE IN: 5 p.m. MT, ALTITUDE

Key matchup: Malik Beasley vs. Will Barton III

With Karl-Anthony Towns out for Sunday’s matchup with a left Perilunate subluxation, the focus will be on the swing position at the Target Center.

Denver will be greeted by a familiar host in Minneapolis as Malik Beasley recently secured a long-term deal after being traded by the team as part of a deal that netted them the first round pick that allowed them to draft Zeke Nnaji at No. 22.

Beasley got off to a hot start in Minnesota last season, averaging 20.7 points and 5.1 boards while shooting an impressive 42.6 percent from downtown in 14 games before the NBA’s hiatus. He has cooled off slightly this season, putting 17.8 points per game while shooting 30 percent from downtown.

 Will Barton III returned to action after a long injury layoff and the results have been as expected at the start of the season. Barton III has been solid in driving and creating chances for other teammates and on the defensive end but has been inconsistent in getting his own shot. He is averaging 10.2 while shooting 37.7 percent from the field.

With both men being keenly aware of each other’s strengths, this could be a pivotal matchup in Sunday’s game.

Take advantage of mismatches

The schedule hasn’t been in the Nuggets’ favor at the start of the season, but Sunday presents a chance to build some confidence for Malone’s team.

As of Saturday evening, all of the Nuggets opponents they’ve faced this season are .500 or above. Going up against a Town-less T’Wolves should in theory give the Nuggets a chance to regroup. One key area of focus should be rebounding.

Minnesota is dead-last in defensive rebounding, corralling 31 boards a game. Although the Nuggets aren’t much better in the category at the moment, averaging 32.2 rebounds a game, the team needs to make this area a priority with the T’wolves’ leading big man in Towns sidelined.

Defense hasn’t been a strong suit for the T’wolves over the past season and it remains an issue in the early going of the season. Minnesota is 28th in defensive rating at 114.9 and is allowing opponents to put up 118.6 points a night.

Contain fast breaks

The Timberwolves have struggled to replicate their efforts from a season ago when it comes to downtown shooting. During the 2019-20 campaign, they were eighth in the NBA in three pointers made per game as they hit 13.3 per game. Granted they also took the third-most attempts in the league at 39.7 and were 28th in converting 33.6 percent. Still, it was a significant part of their philosophy and they improved once former Nuggets Beasley and Juancho Hernangómez arrived, converting at 35.6 percent in February and March.

This season, Minnesota is 20th in the league in made threes, hitting 11.2 per game. The team is also 28th in three-point percentage, shooting 31.3 percent. One area where the group has improved is on fast breaks. The T’Wolves are currently 12th, scoring 14.2 points a game. That is a hearty jump from last season, where they were 25th and scored 11.3 points a game in fast breaks.

Transition defense has been a struggle for Denver in the early part of the season, with the team allowing 22.2 points a game on those plays, according to Synergy. On a positive, the Nuggets are currently eighth in defending fast breaks – allowing 12.4 fast break points a game.

 

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