Jim Souhan
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DENVER — The coaching matchup in the Timberwolves' playoff series against the Nuggets would seem to be a tale of fire and nice.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone admits that he challenged his players "as men" after the Wolves won the series' first two games in Denver, that he showed them clips of TV analysts criticizing them.

Wolves coach Chris Finch is rarely so frontal, or at least he doesn't reveal his harsher tactics. He shows frustration after losses but rarely uses the kind of accusatory language that Malone has in the past week.

The contrast between the coaches is more marked in this series because Finch can't stand or move during games, so he can't work the referees the way he usually does and the way Malone has.

Nice-guy assistant coach Micah Nori is running the team from the front of the sideline while consulting with Finch, which isn't the reason the Wolves have lost two straight games.

Malone is a blunt and honest communicator who wins every news conference.

Finch is often more cautious about levying public criticism, but he's more like Malone than he is different.

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Behind the scenes, Finch can also be tough on players. And, like Malone, he can be tough on his players because he has earned their trust and they want to win more than they want to be coddled.

This is a championship-caliber series with a stunning amount of talent on the court, and the coaches have, like their stars, taken turns shining.

Finch's defensive game plan and implementation in the first two games of the series earned a solid victory in Game 1 and an almost inconceivable blowout in Game 2. The Wolves pressured the ball and particularly star point guard Jamal Murray so much that the Nuggets had trouble running their offense.

Then the series turned, at least temporarily, because of Malone's coaching. That blowout loss gave Malone the ability to rip into his players and their effort over the three off days between Games 2 and 3. The Nuggets countered everything the Wolves were doing well. Now it's Finch's turn to push buttons and his players.

He won't have three days, as Malone did, but Finch could and should make these changes:

— Use forward Kyle Anderson sparingly. He hasn't looked comfortable with any matchups during this series, and his ballhandling isn't needed with Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards and Nickeil Alexander-Walker running the point.

— Find a different way to pressure the ball in general and Murray in particular. Murray and Nikola Jokic are so smart and in tune with their teammates that defenders can't afford to let them see the floor.

— Encourage Jaden McDaniels to cut more aggressively. Standing in the corner, where the Nuggets are happy to let him shoot, has enabled Denver to have a defender who can hedge toward the lane or double team the Wolves' big men.

— Get the Wolves to stop whining about foul calls. Calls will be missed and might even favor the Nuggets, who have a championship pedigree on their side. Lagging behind to argue calls only exacerbates the Wolves' problems.

— Sometimes plans are nothing more than hopes. The Wolves have to hope that Aaron Gordon reverts to his previous shooting form, because he punished them in Game 4, and they can't afford to overplay him because of the presence of Murray and Jokic.

— Build up Karl-Anthony Towns. At a time when the fan base is justifiably upset about KAT's poor performance in Game 4, Finch and the Wolves need to treat him the way they always have: like an outstanding player who is more likely to respond to kindness than curses. The Wolves need his scoring and should encourage him to shoot more from the three-point arc instead of getting into physical battles in the post.

Finch's coaching helped the Wolves grab a 2-0 lead. Malone's coaching brought the series back to even.

Now it's Finch's turn, again, to show his stuff Tuesday night. With a return to all-out defensive intensity, and a little more offensive flow, the Wolves would have a fighting chance to win this series.