Preview: Timberwolves vs. Nuggets

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t used to having this level of success.

As Minnesota prepares to host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Timberwolves sit at 21-13. It’s the first time since the 2003-04 season — the only time Minnesota advanced to the Western Conference finals — that the Timberwolves have been eight games over .500.

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Working in Minnesota’s favor Wednesday is the fact that it catches the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back after Denver (19-15) beat the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

Minnesota takes its four-game winning streak back home to Target Center after a win against the Lakers on Christmas Day. The Wolves went 3-0 on a road trip that included an eight-point win over the same Nuggets club that comes to town Wednesday.

In the win over Los Angeles, the Wolves were fueled by a pair of 23-point performances from Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. The duo, who both played under current Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, has added a veteran presence to a roster that includes young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Gibson scored his 23 points against the Lakers on an efficient 11-of-13 shooting, along with nine rebounds. Butler added eight assists to accompany his offensive performance. But it was their play on the defensive end that impressed their coach the most.

“You’re talking about two elite defenders and knowing how important defense is and making the right plays offensively,” Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “What gets overlooked is Jimmy has eight assists in this game, his rebounding. You can ask him to guard any player on the floor and he does it.”

Butler, Gibson and Co. will now have to continue that tough defense against a Nuggets team that has reeled off three straight wins since losing at home to Minnesota. Denver’s scoring attack has been rather balanced, with six players averaging in double-digit points per game — and four players scoring 15 or more points a night.

But Denver’s defense has clamped down, too. The Nuggets held the high-scoring Golden State Warriors to just 81 points on Saturday and limited the Jazz to 83 points Tuesday.

“It was believing in the next man,” Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler told the Denver Post after his team’s win against Golden State. “Teammates looking out for one another, helping on drives and just scrambling out on shots.”

Minnesota has averaged 114 points during its four-game winning streak. Denver has held its opponents to an average of just 83 points over its last three games. Now these two teams put their winning streaks on the line Wednesday in chilly Minneapolis, where something has to give.

“We had a stretch where we were winning one, winning two, losing one, winning again. We had to stop that,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns told the Star Tribune. “We told ourselves we want to get a winning streak and we’ve done exactly what we said, so I’m really happy.”