The Denver Nuggets had two things happen Friday night that had not occurred in a while — one positive and one negative.
The upside was the Nuggets were fully healthy for the first time in a couple of months, but that was tempered by a 113-101 defeat at Oklahoma City. It was Denver’s first Northwest Division loss this season, a run of success that included big road wins at Portland and Utah.
The Nuggets can turn that around Sunday when they play host to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the fourth and final time this season.
While the Timberwolves are struggling with 16 losses in 17 games, they enter knowing they have played Denver tough in the first three games. They lost by two points in overtime and fell by seven points and nine points.
The Timberwolves lost 109-100 on Dec. 20 when they were in the midst of an 11-game losing streak. They also lost 107-100 to Denver on Jan. 20 when they were middle of a 13-game slide. Things don’t figure to get any easier for the Timberwolves on Sunday.
Gone is Andrew Wiggins who was traded, and while D’Angelo Russell came over from Golden State in that deal, the Timberwolves will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for at least two weeks with a fractured wrist.
It’s a big blow for Minnesota, which was trying to find some rhythm between Towns and Russell.
“He’s a huge part of what we do,” Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “His ability to score inside, score outside, we’ve looked forward to him and D’Angelo getting to share the court together as we continue to build and continue to work toward our ultimate goal. We saw that’s not going to happen these next couple of weeks here.”
The Nuggets can empathize with the Timberwolves. Every Denver starter but Nikola Jokic has missed multiple games and the team had just seven players available in the win at Utah on Feb. 5.
Before the break Will Barton, Mason Plumlee and Michael Porter Jr. all were on the shelf for the Nuggets but they returned for Friday’s game.
The deep roster will help, but Denver has struggled to integrate everybody into what was a tight rotation.
“I really didn’t know how it was going to play out. We got a lot of guys; everybody’s healthy now,” Porter said after Friday’s loss. “My first game back, I really didn’t know when I’d get in. I’ve got to get back in a rhythm, and I think the (Minnesota) game will be a lot better.”
The Nuggets survived a brief scare Friday when guard Jamal Murray had an awkward landing on his leg. He was able to stay in the game after stretching his hip during a timeout.
Murray and Jokic have carried the team during the latest injury spell. Jokic has averaged 27.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists in February. Murray, who had 21 points against the Thunder, averaged 29.0 points in the five games leading up to the All-Star break.
With the team now healthy, the offensive load can be shared, and Murray believes it makes Denver a dangerous opponent over their last 26 games.
“It’s two different teams,” Murray said. “We’ve got everybody healthy. That’s when we’re deadly.”
–Field Level Media