Game 33 Preview: Denver Nuggets vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Denver Nuggets (17-15) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (16-16)

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Last game: Minnesota: W, 102-101 vs Philadelphia, Denver: L, 124-118 OT vs Oklahoma City

I miss this face.
I miss this face.

The Timberwolves managed to pull out a tough home game against the Sixers last night on two last second free throws by Kevin Love. Ricky Rubio scored a career high 22 points in the win, and the Wolves moved back to .500 again.

Denver lost a heartbreaker in overtime last night against the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook absolutely torched the Nuggets for 51 and 40 points respectively. Aaron Afflalo led the Nuggets with 27 points.

The Key Questions

#1. Who will be more exhausted?

Both teams are on the second night of a back to back. Both teams fought through close games. One would like to assume that the Nuggets will be more tired, since they lost and since their game went into overtime, but Minnesota was matched up against a tough, gritty Philadelphia team. They could be worn down as well.

#2. Why has Denver been struggling so much lately?

The Nuggets have lost 10 of their last 13 games. In nine of those games, Denver’s opponent has scored 99 or more. In two of the three wins, Denver’s opponent has score 92 and 91. It’s safe to say that Denver’s defense has been struggling.

According to the rather excellent Denver Nuggets blog Roundball Mining Company, the problem lies in Denver’s defensive IQ. This is a little strange to me, since Denver has solid individual defenders like Corey Brewer (miss u) and Aaron Afflalo. But click on the link to see a solid breakdown of how Denver’s defense, well, broke down thanks to miscommunication between Kosta Koufos (don’t really miss u) and Afflalo against an Oklahoma City pick and roll.

#3. Who gon’ stop Pek? Who gon’ stop him now?

Pekovic has scored in double figures 10 games in a row. There were several players who I expected to have big, breakout seasons this year playing for Minnesota. I’m afraid Nikola Pekovic wasn’t one of them. Timofey Mozgov is going to have his hands full tonight. He may have a few bruises after the game as well.

The Key Matchups

Kenneth Faried has been starting for Denver at the power forward, but last night against the Thunder, he got just 11 minutes. Kevin Love should expect to face a rotating door of defenders including the incredibly athletic Faried, Al Harrington, and others.

Pek vs. Mozgov will be fun, as will Pek vs. Kosta Koufos. Koufos has been giving Denver solid minutes. He has been so good that Denver has reportedly put Chris Anderson up on the trading block.

Does anyone else miss Corey Brewer as much as me? His defense, especially one on one, was amazing, and he was an incredibly infectious locker room presence in a good way, by all accounts. It seems like this team would have really been a good fit for him. His matchup tonight againstWes Johnson could be painful, who Minnesota used to have, and who Minnesota is currently stuck with. Sigh.

Ty Lawson is brutally fast and athletic, but he’s not the type of point guard who gives Rubio fits. Rubio should be able to move his feet and use his height and length to bother Lawson.

Denver has a deep bench to match Minnesota’s, so no real advantage there. It will be interesting to see if Adelman extends his bench on the second night of a very difficult back-to-back.

The Outlook

Don’t look now, but a win tonight combined with a Portland loss to the Lakers would vault Minnesota into a three way tie for eighth in the Western Conference. You know. Layoff-pay erritory-tay.