Matt Brooks
Writer & Digital Content Specialist

The Nuggets are on the verge of pulling off their first playoff series sweep in franchise history.

After handling business against the Timberwolves on Friday, 120-111, the Nuggets sit comfortably ahead with a 3-0 lead in the first-round series. The Western Conference's #1 seed has dominated the #8 Wolves, losing just one of the twelve quarters played thus far in the series.

Denver has gotten a balanced effort from the top end of its rotation against Minnesota. Michael Porter Jr. led Denver in scoring with 25 points to go with 9 rebounds in Game 3. Jamal Murray shouldered the load in Game 2 with a ridiculous 40-point burst. And Nikola Jokić has been steady all throughout the series. The Joker recorded his seventh playoff triple-double with 20 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds in Game 3. In Game 2, he had 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists.

But the story of the Nuggets' successful series goes beyond just its Big 3. The depth of this talented roster has come alive, and Denver's bench has outscored Minnesota's in two of the three total games.

"I think the quality of our depth," said Michael Malone about Denver's biggest strength in the playoffs. "I think, right now, our team is not just Nikola. It's not just Jamal... That's what I think has allowed us to win all but just one quarter up to this point."

The Nuggets enter Sunday with the opportunity to close this series out before even heading back to Denver. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, so the odds certainly favor the Mile High crew coming out on top. But still, a clean sweep would give Malone's squad more time to prepare for its second-round opponent—likely the Phoenix Suns, who now hold a 3-1 lead over the LA Clippers after Saturday's 112-100 victory.

It's paramount that Denver takes care of business against an opponent that's hugging the ropes, begging to fall out of the ring.


Jaden McDaniels — Out (Right Hand Fracture)  
Josh Minott — Questionable (Left Ankle Sprian)
Jaylen Nowell — Questionable (Left Knee Tendinopathy)  
Naz Reid — Out (Left Scaphoid Fracture) 

Michael Porter Jr. and attacking the rim

Porter Jr. had a very quiet start to Game 2 by his standards. He finished the first half with just 3 points, and more importantly, took just one shot. It was uncharacteristic, to put it bluntly, to see one of Denver's best scorers have such a quiet outing out of the gates.

When Malone sat Murray and Jokić to start the fourth quarter, MPJ completely took over. He hit a variety of tough shots—curling threes, reverse layups against closeouts, pull-up midrange jumpers—all of which we covered in our Game 3 preview.

Maybe most importantly, Porter Jr. looked incredibly comfortable driving into the painted area and accepting contact before finishing strong.

He carried that mentality over to Game 3 and completely torched Minnesota inside the paint. Porter Jr.'s second made shot was a tone-setter; he hit Mike Conely with a between-the-legs dribble, hesitated, and then rampaged to the rim for a powerful and-1 finish.

That was just the beginning.

Porter Jr. flashed just how deep his bag is as a rim finisher in one of Denver's biggest games of the year. He hit a euro-step with a nasty up-and-under finish. There was a floater off an elongated final step after coming off a handoff from Jokić. MPJ even burrowed into 248-pound Karl-Anthony Towns to get deep positioning for a layup off the glass.

Game 3 epitomized why the last month of basketball from Porter Jr. has been so fun to watch. The 24-year-old is seemingly adding new things to his game with every passing contest. His handle appeared tight, his confidence almost overflowing when driving to the rim and bumping into defenders. After the game, Porter Jr. attributed his performance to health... and the self-assurance that good health is giving him.

"I could always do it. I mean, dating back to high school, that was my go-to," said Porter Jr. about his rim finishing. "Like, I didn't really set up from three as much. My first thought was to get to the basket. But I think everything I've been through, I think it's just, maybe not reluctant, but I just feel like as time goes on and I get more and more comfortable with what I can do out there and things like that and just keep getting healthier and healthier, I just wanna do it more."

Porter Jr.'s shot chart is exactly what you're looking for if you're Michael Malone; all of his made shots were from behind the three-point line and directly next to the basket.

Porter Jr. continuing to finish like this from two-point range only takes Denver's ceiling that much higher.

Will Denver use Game 4 to give Christian Braun more playoff reps?

Christian Braun has been somewhat of a revelation this season. He cracked Denver's deep rotation as a rookie and cemented himself as one of the best defenders on the team.

Braun only played in 7 minutes of Game 2. However, he got his big chance in Denver's next game.

And he thrived.

Braun finished the night with 9 points on a nifty 4-of-5 shooting line. He also dished 2 assists and made a corner three-pointer on the fastbreak. Simply put, the 21-year-old looked like he belonged on the biggest stage.

Much of Braun's damage as a scorer was done in transition. He's an explosive, powerful leaper that doesn't shy away from contact. The rookie is also adept at keeping track of where defenders are located on the floor in transition and improvised when needed on Friday. The reverse layup he made in the video below may look easy, but it isn't. And the finish with his off-hand over the outstretched arms of Anthony Edwards was just as pretty.

Oh, and if you need more evidence of just how powerful of an athlete Braun is, look no further than his finish over the top of Rudy Gobert in the video above. Gobert got a hand on the ball, yet it didn't bother 'CB' in the slightest.

But Braun's more than just a tantalizing athlete; he's also a heady player that works like a cog in Denver's spinning wheel of an offense. Maybe Braun's finest play of Game 3 was when he cut along the baseline, received a gorgeous hockey pass from Jokić, and hit Porter Jr. right on the screws for a three-pointer after drifting down to the corner.

Malone listed Braun alongside the starters, Bruce Brown, and Jeff Green as his core eight guys for the postseason before the first round. So far, his wager on the rookie has paid off. Handsomely.

"The only way you truly develop in this league is by playing, but more importantly, playing through mistakes. If I yank Christian Braun out after a turnover, how's he gonna go in there and impact the game? He's gonna be looking over his shoulder after every mistake. You can't play like that," said Malone. "This is invaluable for Christian Braun, and I thought he responded. Nine points attacking the basket, finishing, and it's great to see him out there doing what he's doing for us."

It only behooves the team to give Braun as much playing time as possible in Game 4 to prepare for the second round, assuming Denver gets there.

TUNE-IN TO GAME 4: 7:30 p.m. MT, TNT and 92.5FM