Jokic, Nuggets ready for Towns, Wolves (Dec 28, 2016)

BY AP • December 28, 2016

DENVER -- Nikola Jokic emerged as the Nuggets' starting center and a key component of the Denver offense the past week.

When he is on the floor, the Nuggets are better, as was the case at the end of a 106-102 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.

The problem is keeping him on the floor. Jokic has been plagued with foul trouble, which has limited his minutes in some games. He will be tested Wednesday when he faces the formidable frontline of the Minnesota Timberwolves at Pepsi Center.

Jokic will have help. He will need it, too, with 7-foot Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns playing at a high level. Minnesota finished off a sweep of Atlanta on Monday, when Towns had 22 points and 11 rebounds and didn't miss a shot.

The Timberwolves (10-21) stumbled early but are finding their footing.

"We all understand where our spots are more than last year," Towns said. "We all understand this is a different system. We started clicking late last year when we understood the system. Now we have a new system this year, so we've been taking our time and really understanding. Now we're understanding where our spots are and where we can shoot the ball."

This is the second of four games between the teams this season. Denver (13-18) won the first one 102-99 in Minnesota on Nov. 3 with Towns going for 32 points and 14 rebounds in the loss. Jokic was a near non-factor in the game, scoring eight points in 14 minutes.

Things are different nearly two months later. Jokic began the season as the starting power forward next to 7-1 Jusuf Nurkic, but two weeks ago, coach Michael Malone switched up his rotation. Jokic is now the center and Nurkic is a benchwarmer.

So far, Jokic is making Malone look smart. He came within one assist of a triple-double against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 19, and he has been Denver's best player over the past six games.

There was no better example than Monday. The Nuggets were trailing by six with 7:40 left when Jokic came back into the game. He scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers, grabbed three rebounds and had a steal to help the Nuggets go on a 16-4 run. On the night, Jokic had 24 points and 10 rebounds.

His teammates gushed about him postgame.

"He can score, he can pass, he can do so many things," guard Will Barton told The Denver Post. "It's so fun playing with him. I love playing with him."

The negative coming out of the win over the Clippers was the play of Wilson Chandler. The team's second-leading scorer had just two points and left the bench for the locker room when he was subbed out with 3:56 left.

His leaving had nothing to do with injury.

"I'm not sure what happened if he did leave the bench," Malone said after Tuesday's practice, according to BSNDenver.com. "He played 28 minutes, he did not have a great game and we went with some other guys down the stretch. He was here (Tuesday) and he was fine and he was in a good place."

The Nuggets will need Chandler to play solid defense against Minnesota. In addition to Towns' big night against the Hawks, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine had 21 points each and Ricky Rubio added 10 assists and no turnovers.

If the Timberwolves are that efficient against Denver, it could be a tough night for the home team.

"This is the way we have to play," Rubio told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Teams like San Antonio or Golden State, they end with 30-plus assists every game. That should be our goal as a team. We have players who can score every night. But if we do it like we did (Monday), it translates into wins."



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