The Nuggets went 57-25 in 2012-13, they finished 2nd in the Northwest and 3rd in the Western Conference. They were one of the NBA's best regular season teams, but the upstart Golden State Warriors eliminated Denver in six games in the first round of the playoffs.
That brought about some changes this offseason. The biggest was firing one of the NBA's best coaches: George Karl. Prior to his firing, Karl was the only other active NBA coach (beyond Minnesota's Rick Adelman) that has 1000+ career wins. A year after a 57-win season, the Nuggets fired Karl and lost their GM to the Toronto Raptors. That also caused some of Denver's main contributors to flee Denver this offseason. Most notably: Andre Iguodala, signed a four-year deal with the team that ousted the Nuggets from the playoffs. Corey Brewer obviously returned home to the team that drafted him. Both of those players are having INCREDIBLE seasons thus far, too. Third-string point guard signed with the Raptors and the Nuggets traded their starting center (Kosta Koufos) to the Memphis Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur.
Beyond Arthur, the Nuggets also added Nate Robinson, Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson. They also gave Brian Shaw the opportunity he's been searching for, for a number of years. Shaw is the new head coach in Denver.
The Timberwolves are seeking their fourth win in their last five games in this one, while Denver is seeking a three-game winning streak. The Timberwolves are 6-3 on the year, 2-2 on the road (losses to the Clippers and Cavaliers), 3-2 vs. the Western Conference and 1-0 vs. the Northwest Division. The Nuggets are 3-4 on the year, 2-2 at home, 2-4 vs. the Western Conference and 1-1 vs. the Northwest Division.
Minnesota is averaging 108.2 points per game (2nd in the NBA), 45.6 rebounds (6th in the NBA), 25.6 assists (4th) and are allowing 99.7 points (16th). The Wolves' offense has been lethal this season and their defense hasn't been as bad as I initially thought. What amazes me the most, is that the Wolves are the 2nd-best offense in the NBA and yet they're missing a key offensive weapon in Chase Budinger and they have J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved & Derrick Williams all REALLY struggling. You add a bit more production from those second unit guys and Minnesota's offense just becomes a juggernaut.
The Nuggets are averaging 100.4 points per game (13th), 47.6 rebounds (2nd), 20.1 assists (19th) while allowing 100.9 points per game (18th). The least surprising stat is the rebounding--this Nuggets squad has A LOT of very talented big men: Hickson, McGee, Mozgov, Arthur, Chandler & Randolph. The Wolves have struggled a bit on the boards early in the season, so it will be interesting who walks away with the edge on the glass tonight.
This will be the first of four meetings between these two teams this season. They'll face each other again on the 27th of this month and then won't play their last two meetings until mid-February and then early-March. Those games late in the season could be very important as we approach the postseason. Most pundits agree that the Nuggets likely won't make the playoffs and barring health issues, the Timberwolves should make their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
These two teams have had some very good games over the past couple of seasons and for the first time in a while, the Timberwolves definitely have the better team and a healthy team to boot.
The Timberwolves are actually without a couple of their key reserves. Chase Budinger (knee) is returning to the Twin Cities sometime this weekend. He can only do running on the treadmill and set shots, but progress is definitely being made. He's still targeting a mid-December return. Ronny Turiaf (elbow) is also still out. After the injury, we were supposed to hear about his progress a week later. It's been more than a week and we still haven't heard anything--just by that fact, it seems like he could be out for quite a while, yet. The Wolves were without their second-leading scorer (Kevin Martin) in their most recent contest. He missed the game vs. Cleveland with 'flu-like symptoms', but it sounds as though he'll be ready to go tonight.
The Nuggets are without two players who would be in their starting lineup: Danilo Gallinari (knee) and JaVale McGee (leg). Danilo Gallinari is still recovering from surgery on his torn ACL, progress is being made, but it sounds as though the earliest he'll return is January/February 2014. McGee recently fractured the tibia in his leg, which led to J.J. Hickson being supplanted into the starting lineup. Wilson Chandler was dealing with a hamstring injury early in the season, but he returned on Wednesday and in his first game of the season he played 21 minutes off the bench, finishing with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
Let's take a look at tonight's starting lineup...
With JaVale McGee out for a month or two, J.J. Hickson is starting at center. He's a capable center, but it certainly gives Denver an undersized frontcourt. I'm a bit surprised those minutes aren't going to 7'1" big man Timofey Mozgov who has been playing very well for the Nuggets this season.
There have been some rumors lately that the Knicks offered guard Iman Shumpert to the Nuggets for Kenneth Faried. I can see why the Knicks would do that trade, but it certainly wouldn't benefit the Nuggets...as much. Shumpert would add a bit more defensive intensity to the Nuggets' backcourt and it WOULD give other big men a chance with Faried out of the picture (Randolph & Arthur). I also wouldn't mind Faried moving to the Eastern Conference--only to see him twice a year (and if he went to the Knicks, it would only be one more time this season).
The key will be containing Ty Lawson. There's very little doubt that this is Ty's team and Rubio has his work cut out for him--Lawson is certainly one of the NBA's best point guards (Top 10).
I expect the Wolves to go at that mismatch in the paint early (Peković vs. Hickson). Pek has the height and physicality advantage and the Wolves will likely look to exploit that in the first couple possessions of this one--important to get Pek going early too considering his up-and-down first couple weeks of the season.
The key for Minnesota in this one is simply to stick with what has been working. They've found a lot of success with their gameplans this season which entail fast break buckets for Brewer & plenty of touches for K-Mart & Love.
Tipoff is set for 7pmCT, enjoy the game, GO WOLVES!