Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets

Photo Credit: Carlos Gonzalez, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Photo Credit: Carlos Gonzalez, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Setting the stage:
For the third time already this season, the Wolves face the Nuggets on Thursday night in Denver. This will be the second game of a back to back and the Wolves will once again be without Ricky Rubio. The thin air of Denver for a team that barely has enough healthy bodies to fill a rotation. Not to mention, the Wolves have had very few back to back experiences thus far in the season. This may not end well.

The Nuggets beat the Wolves at Target Center on 11/21, 101-94. The Wolves returned the favor on 12/12/12 (sorry, couldn’t resist), beating the Nuggets 108-105. Minnesota is coming off a bad loss Wednesday night in Utah where they looked lifeless, being blown out 106-84. Conversely, Denver is coming off of a win Tuesday night against the hottest team in the NBA, the Clippers.

The Nuggets are 18-15 on the year, good for second place in the Northwest division and seventh in the Western Conference. They remain one of the strongest offensive teams in the league, averaging 101.6 ppg (8th in the league) and 23.1 apg (5th). The Nuggets lead the league in rebounding at 46.3 per game, a slight advantage over the Lakers and Wolves.

As mentioned in Wednesday’s preview for the Jazz game, tonight is another important game for the Wolves against a division and conference opponent with similar playoff aspirations.

Player to watch:
Kevin Love – It is no secret that Love is struggling mightily from the field this season. Broken hand or not, he is letting these struggles negatively affect other elements of his game. His jump shot looks broken. As suggested during last night’s game in Utah, it might be worth creating a little bit of a wake-up call to Love and the rest of the locker room to challenge him to work more in the paint, particularly when Pekovic is out of the game. The Wolves need Love to get going … quickly.

Match-up to watch:
Andrei Kirilenko vs. Danilo Gallinari. Much like this Nuggets team in its totality, Danilo’s night in and night out performance continues to be a head scratcher for me. The volatility in how he performs from game to game is pretty amazing. In four games in five nights during Christmas week, Danilo put up 7, 19, 39, and 7 points respectively. You could understand the latter 7 point game as fatigue, but he has thrown up eight games in single digits thus far this season.

It will be interesting to see how Kirilenko responds to not only playing on back to back nights, but the 30+ minutes he put in on his emotional return to Utah. He has had his problems stopping Danilo in the two earlier meetings this season.

Predictions:
No Rubio, the end of a back to back, and the Denver air = Twolves loss.
Final score prediction: Twolves 102, Nuggets 108

Three stars of the game predictions:
1. Ty Lawson
2. Andre Iguodala
3. Nikola Pekovic

Hope the Pups can prove me wrong. Let’s go Wolves!