Timberwolves vs. Nuggets: Building a winning streak?

Oct 12, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) drives against Denver Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson (1) in the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Minnesota won 105-88. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves look to create some momentum against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night after a dominating win in the home opener on Tuesday.

After dropping the first two games of the season on the road, the Timberwolves returned to Target Center and completed a resounding route of the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night.

Now, the Wolves will host yet another Western Conference rival whom they will have to beat out for one of the final seeds in the playoff race in the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets have an identical 1-2 record but have played two likely playoff teams extremely tough their last two times out, losing at home to Portland by two points in overtime and falling to the Raptors in Toronto by just three points next time out. They haven’t played since Monday and should be well-rested for Thursday’s game.

Starting guard Gary Harris and his fill-in, Will Barton, are both out for Thursday’s game while the Wolves will be without Ricky Rubio once again.

This is an important game for Minnesota to win with a tough road game against the undefeated Oklahoma City Thunder looming on Saturday evening.

Oct 12, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Minnesota won 105-88. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Nuggets Preview

Record: 1-2 (0-1 Home, 1-1 Away)

Starting Lineup

PG Emmanuel Mudiay (16 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 36.7 APG)
SG Jamal Murray (0.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.7 APG)
SF Danilo Gallinari (16 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 APG)
PF Nikola Jokic (13.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Jusuf Nurkic (16 PPG, 12 RPG, 1.7 APG)

Key Reserves

The Nuggets’ top strength is their depth, with a cast of solid NBA veterans backing up their relatively young starting lineup. It’s depleted just a big with injuries to third-year guard Gary Harris and last year’s sixth-man Will Barton, but it should still be one of the better benches the Wolves face early in the season.

It’s led by Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler, with Kenneth Faried playing heavy minutes as well. The rotation includes shifting Gallinari to the stretch-four spot and, at least through three games, playing an insane 39 minutes per game.

But short rotations can lead to wins against teams that have more of the hockey-style line changes — especially on multiple days rest. And remember, the Nuggets have not played since Monday in Toronto.

Oct 30, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) battles Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) for position during the second half at Pepsi Center. The Timberwolves won 95-78. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Three Things to Watch

1. Young, erratic point guards. The Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay struggled mightily as a rookie last season and is off to a rough start again this year in terms of offensive efficiency and turnover rate.

Kris Dunn will be starting just his second game and participating in his fourth game overall as an NBA player. (He’s nearly two years older than Mudiay, however.)

It should be a fun, albeit sloppy, match-up. It’s also a match-up that Dunn dominated in Las Vegas Summer League, and he shouldn’t have any major problems gaining the upper hand this time around, either.

2. The big men. The Wolves and Nuggets each have dominant front courts. Nikola Jokic was arguably, at least on a per-minute basis, the most productive rookie a year ago, and at worst, he was a top-three rookie along with Towns and the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis. Jusuf Nurkic is a solid player, too, and Kenneth Faried is a fantastic third big coming off the bench.

Towns has yet to light the world on fire in the Timberwolves’ first three games of the season, but we all know what he’s capable of, and Gorgui Dieng has been his typical, consistent self.

Both teams hold their strength in the front court, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens when the two sides collide for the first time this season on Thursday.

3. The bench battle. As mentioned, the Nuggets’ depth is perhaps their greatest strength, and the Wolves figure to have a much-improved second unit this season.

Minnesota’s reserves finally started to play better in Tuesday’s route over the Grizzlies, but they have yet to find true consistency. The Nuggets’ rotation has been kept shorter, but the Nelson/Chandler/Faried trio is a force to be reckoned with.

Nov 1, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau looks on during the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Prediction

The Nuggets and Timberwolves are not only divisional rivals with identical 1-2 win-loss records on the season, but they are two teams who will almost certainly fall in the #7-#10 range in the Western Conference come mid-April.

Both teams have good coaching (the Nuggets’ Michael Malone seems to be woefully underrated) and deep, veteran benches, not to mention somewhat erratic, young starting point guards.

This should be a close game, but it’s certainly a winnable contest for the Timberwolves. Let’s call this a wild, 109-105 victory for the home team as the Wolves even their record at 2-2 before heading to OKC on Saturday.

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