Timberwolves at Nuggets: Continuing to trend upwards

Nov 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles the ball around Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves head to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Nuggets for the second time this season, looking to continue a recent stretch of strong play.

Despite a disheartening loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night and what amounted to a blowout loss in Oklahoma City on Christmas Day, the Wolves have now won four of their last seven games, with one of the losses the somehow near-miss in overtime to the Houston Rockets.

The road wins in Chicago and Atlanta were impressive, the home win against the Suns was nice, and Monday night’s easy home win over the Hawks on the back-end of a back-to-back was a clinic.

The team’s play continue to be all over the place, and consistency is needed, to say the least. But the upcoming schedule is favorable, and if the overall play continues to, at a minimum, trend upwards, this team could find itself sniffing the .500 mark come mid-April.

At any rate let’s take a look at Wednesday night’s contest with the Nuggets.

Nov 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine (8) looks on during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Target Center. The Nuggets won 102-99. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

Record: 10-21 (5-11 home, 5-10 road)

Starting Lineup

PG – Ricky Rubio (7 PPG, 7.2 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 SPG)

SG – Zach LaVine (21.2 PPG, 3.1 APG, 3.1 RPG)

SF – Andrew Wiggins (21.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.3 APG)

PF – Gorgui Dieng (10.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.3 BPG)

C – Karl-Anthony Towns (22.2 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG)

Key Reserves

The bench continues to struggle in pretty much every aspect, although Kris Dunn has played much better of late.

The Wolves need Shabazz Muhammad to play better, although that ship may have sailed. Nemanja Bjelica has been especially up-and-down, and Cole Aldrich hasn’t played a single minute in three of the last four games.

Really, Minnesota just needs something out of the bench. Thibodeau would never play his bench too much, of course, but with both Wiggins and LaVine ranking in the top-five in the NBA in minutes played, the reserves will need to either improve in short order or risk being shored up by a new acquisition or two.

Nov 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) jumps up to attempt blocking a shot from Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the second half at Target Center. The Nuggets won 102-99. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Nuggets Preview

Record: 13-18 (6-8 home, 7-10 road)

Starting Lineup

PG – Emmanuel Mudiay (12.8 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.7 RPG)

SG – Gary Harris (12.5 PPG, 3 RPG, 2.7 APG)

SF – Wilson Chandler (16.4 PPG, 7 RPG, 1.9 APG)

PF – Danilo Gallinari (16.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 APG)

C – Nikola Jokic (11.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.4 BPG)

Key Reserves

The Nuggets have solid depth. Veteran guard Jameer Nelson has started six games and averages 25.6 minutes per game. Kenneth Faried has started in about half of Denver’s games and is averaging 22.3 minutes per game.

There’s nobody on the Nuggets that average more than Gallinari’s 16.8 points per game. It’s a deep team with no superstars — nearly the opposite of the Timberwolves, despite the youth of each team being mostly alike.

Nov 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) and forward Gorgui Dieng (5) block a shot from Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic (23) in the second half at Target Center. The Nuggets won 102-99. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Three Things to Watch

1. Three-point shooting. The Timberwolves shot 15-of-31 last time out in their blowout win over the Hawks and after a long dry spell from deep seem to be getting it together. Zach LaVine is their best shooter from beyond the arc and he’s remained hot while Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have finally found their stride.

The Nuggets are 16th in the league in three-point attempts and 13th in makes from downtown — both ranks north of where the Wolves sit.

2. Fastbreak points. The Nuggets are fifth in the NBA in pace of play, while the Wolves are just 22nd in the league.

We discussed this earlier on Wednesday, and the Timberwolves have been playing faster of late. In order to keep the offense’s efficiency intact, they need to continue playing fast and maximizing the talents of Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn in the open floor.

3. Staying hot and trending upwards. The Wolves are 4-3 over their last seven games and have largely been playing better of late, with a couple of bumps in the road against Sacramento and in Oklahoma City. As long as they keep momentum headed in the right direction, however, they’ll be in a good spot by the end of the season. And baby steps are important.

Dec 25, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau speaks to forward Andrew Wiggins (22) after a play against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Game Prediction

It’s never easy to play in Denver, even against a below-.500 team. But between the altitude, the good crowd, and a team that plays fast with a high number of three-point attempts, the Wolves will have their work cut out for them.

It’ll be tough sledding, but the Wolves will win a close one by a score of 102-99, finally hanging on down the stretch.

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