Minnesota at Denver
Time: 8 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: DEN -6
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Denver Nuggets are coming off a blowout game against the Golden State Warriors. Which side of the blowout they were on, however, might be the more surprising part: Denver came out and smashed the Golden State Warriors 132-110 in one of the more surprising routs the Dubs have encountered over the past two seasons. The Nuggets have been without Danilo Gallinari and Emmanuel Mudiay, but instead of slumping, they have thrived.
Denver still occupies the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, and it is looking more and more like the Nuggs do hold on and crash the 2017 postseason party. More interestingly, it may be against their last opponent Golden State. But as for tonight, the Nuggets turn their attention to hosting the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves, who are playing the remainder of the 2016-17 season without starting shooting guard Zach LaVine. Denver is 6-point favorites in the game which will air at 8 PM (CST) on NBA League Pass.
Denver has one outstanding success story this season: Nikola Jokic is now more than just a prospect, but a franchise cornerstone instead. Jokic has done everything for the Nuggets, and with Mudiay out, he has often been playing a “point-center” role.
Jokic had 12 assists in the win over Golden State, just one facet of a triple-double that was every bit as jaw-dropping as it was statistically impactful. Jokic seemingly can do everything, and his craftiness is generating buzz from casual fans to the most astute analysts. While he did have a good rookie season a year ago, he has built upon it and given Denver a legitimate force at the 5-spot.
His comment was that “all you need is a brain to play great basketball,” and what a brain Jokic has. Some of his bounce passes thread the needle in a fashion only seen from the greatest NBA point guards, and yet he is a 7-footer with the skills, bulk and size to be a major force in the NBA for the next decade. It was enough that Denver felt they should repeat the motif in their second unit, so they dealt for another sharp passing big man in Mason Plumlee.
It cost Denver just Josef Nurkic and a protected first round pick, and it was also a clear sign that Denver is seeking to accelerate the rebuild in light of its newfound success this season. They are the surprise story of the NBA, and the win over Golden State merely provided an accent: the Nuggets are a team on the rise.
Of course, it has not been all Jokic behind Denver’s recent surge. Swingman Will Barton has thrived in the absence of Gallinari, and to call Barton some form of a “Kevin Durant lite” is hardly the stretch it may seem superficially. Barton can create his own shot in a very Durant-like fashion, and he is not shy about getting up shots. A volume scorer who plays with a lot of energy, Barton figures to be penciled in with Jokic as the Nuggets form some semblance of a young, exciting and soon-to-be contending core.
But we cannot get ahead of ourselves here. The Nuggets have been rolling with 35-year-old Jameer Nelson at the point, and Nelson has been playing great. But he is still 35. Mudiay is still a major question mark with his shooting ineptitudes, and Jamal Murray is kind of the anti-Mudiay as a great shooter whose playmaking skills are as questionable as Mudiay’s shooting stroke. Mixed in with these questions is whether Gary Harris is the 2-guard of the future, or whether Barton shifts there and the Nuggets retain Gallinari long-term.
Of course, the Nuggets have a glut of forwards like Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler. Gallo’s shooting may be too valuable to move, but it seems highly likely Denver continues to pursue trades to further its prospects in the immediate future. Faried has been rumored in trades for the last several season but the time for such a move to come to fruition is now for the 25-30 Nuggets. While no one is expecting them to upset Golden State in a 7-game series this postseason, with the proper moves Denver could improve enough that it does not have to worry about such a draw next year.
Minnesota, meanwhile, in losing LaVine for the year, now become something far more of a two-man team. Andrew Wiggins can score about as well as any 3 in the league, but that is really all he can do. His defensive effort needs to vastly improved—most especially since that was billed as one of his primary strengths coming out of Kansas.
Second-year center Karl-Anthony Towns has been brilliant on both ends of the court, but his help-side defense could bear improvement. It also helps Towns immensely that Gorgui Dieng happens to draw the best opposing big defensively most nights. The Timberwolves are not a good defensive team, and Denver is stroking the ball from all over.
The Nuggets shot 62 percent from three against the Warriors, an aberration to be sure, but Denver is a team loaded with good shooters, though it lacks great ones. This game easily could turn into another big blowout win for Denver, and the six-point spread seems awfully gratuitous to Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, most especially since this represents the second night of a back-to-back for Minny.