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DENVER – Familiarity abounds on both sides of the Nuggets-Timberwolves playoff series. Wolves coach Chris Finch used to be an assistant in Denver, as did assistant coach Micah Nori. Nuggets assistant Ryan Saunders preceded Finch as the head coach of the Wolves and guard Austin Rivers played for Denver the previous two seasons.

In the middle of all of it is current Wolves President Tim Connelly, the man who spent nine seasons building Denver into the Western Conference contender it is today and the executive who swung for one of the most controversial recent NBA trades when he brought Rudy Gobert to Minnesota.

"It'll be weird for sure," Connelly said at a Wolves shootaround Sunday. "I think it will be weirder for my kids. It's their first time back. Timberwolves, hopefully we prevail. But if we come up short, we're going to come up short to guys that I love and care about and they're going to move on and have a great series.

"I think our group is pretty excited. We've been through a lot. It has not been a linear path to this game this evening."

By that, Connelly was referencing the injuries the Wolves have endured, like Karl-Anthony Towns missing most of the season because of a right calf injury, the multiple play-in games they played over the past week and the process of integrating Towns and Gobert together.

"I thought it was super clunky initially," Connelly said of the pairing. "It wasn't even unique to them. We had a clunky start to the season, period. A little bit expected because of the new faces."

Connelly lamented the recent injuries to Naz Reid (broken wrist) and Jaden McDaniels (broken hand) because he felt the Wolves had played their best basketball of the season on a West Coast trip in which they defeated the Warriors and Kings on the road.

"I thought prior to Naz's injury, I thought that's probably the best we looked. We had a really successful West Coast road trip. I thought the big identity was starting to look like it could potentially be something that was impactful."

But of late, Connelly said he was encouraged by how Towns has looked since returning from injury. Connelly even said the Wolves did not know if they would have Towns back this season, the first time he had said so.

"It's really cool to see KAT come back from such a severe injury. It was a really rough one," Connelly said. "There were times during the season where we weren't certain he was going to come back. I think he looks like himself right now."

Connelly said he's still in regular contact with several people in the Nuggets organization, and most of the chatter is typically about "stupid memes and non-basketball stories." After the Wolves made the playoffs, a lot of those people congratulated Connelly.

The Gobert trade will define Connelly's tenure in Minnesota, the way his drafting of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. did in Denver. It took years for Denver to get to this point. The Wolves don't have as much time, given Gobert's age (30), and while Connelly doesn't regret making the trade, there is still more work the Wolves have to do to get on Denver's level, he said.

"It's just hard to get elite guys under contract who are excited to play in a market that sometimes guys aren't excited to play in," Connelly said. "We've got a long way to go before we're where this team is. We certainly have a lot of history here beyond myself, Finchy, Micah. We have so much respect and good memories here."

Love for Saunders

Towns was facing Denver for the first time this season, which meant his former coach Ryan Saunders was set to scheme against him for the first time. Saunders joined Michael Malone's staff as an assistant this season and has helped orchestrate Denver's defense.

"Me and Ryan's relationship is deeper than basketball," Towns said. "His father [Flip Saunders] gave me the chance to live my NBA dream and trusted me to do big things for this organization and play basketball at its highest levels. I'm forever grateful for him and his family, and I love him tremendously. Always wish him the best."

Towns said he and Saunders stay in regular contact with each other. When asked if he and Saunders had exchanged messages recently, Towns laughed and said, "Hell no. Nah. We locked in."