On the floor Monday night at Target Center was a team whose highly skilled center was the focal point of an efficient, modern NBA offense. That team came up with rebounds in clutch situations and played well enough to overcome injuries to three key contributors thanks to its depth.
The Nuggets and big man Nikola Jokic left Minnesota with a 107-100 victory over the Timberwolves, Denver’s third victory in as many meetings this season and the Wolves’ sixth consecutive loss.
Again it was a reminder of what the Wolves could be and maybe could have been after beating Denver on the final day of the 2017-18 regular season to earn their first playoff berth in 14 seasons. The franchise trajectories have gone in different directions since.
The Nuggets are an enviable franchise, especially for those who aren’t in one of the top markets. The Wolves hit another bottom last season and are trying to bounce back up.
“I know they did it the right way and they built a nice program,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “I’ve said multiple times that we want to be the Minnesota Timberwolves, but we want to take things from people that are successful, and Denver is a group that has been successful.”
The Wolves were in it for most of the game and then Denver ran past them in the fourth quarter, even though the Wolves were rested and the Nuggets were on the tail end of a back-to-back. The Nuggets grabbed six offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter for seven second-chance points that helped provide the difference as Denver scored 50 points in the paint. There was one possession with the Wolves down 93-88 and 6 minutes, 56 seconds to play in which the Nuggets got two offensive rebounds before Malik Beasley drained a deflating three-pointer.
“We’ve got to have that toughness,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We’ve got to have that fight. We’ve got to go get that ball. It’s all of us. We just didn’t do the little things well enough, especially in the fourth quarter when you’re playing a team like that.”
The Wolves cut the deficit to four multiple times down the stretch, but Will Barton (18 points) sent the announced crowd of 12,172 to the exits by hitting a three-pointer with 30.9 seconds remaining to provide the final points of the night.
Without Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris, the Nuggets got contributions from Michael Porter Jr. (20 points, 14 rebounds) and Jerami Grant (19 points) in addition to Jokic’s 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Josh Okogie had 16 points off the bench and Towns was fired up for his matchup with Jokic, producing 28 points and nine rebounds, but the Wolves were out of sync around them. Andrew Wiggins followed his first career triple-double with 15 points on 6-for-17 shooting. Robert Covington shot 1-for-7 from three-point range and the Wolves shot 42% from the floor as a team.
The loss prompted some self-evaluation from Towns amid another losing streak.
“I’d lie to you guys if I didn’t say that it was difficult …” he said. “You’ve got to go out there and just do your part and just try to keep leading. That’s what I’m going to do. I think we have great guys in here, and we have to set our foundation, and our foundation has to be set with consistency. It’s not good enough to be six out of seven days consistent. You’ve got to be seven out of seven days.
“That’s what we’re striving for, and we’re going to reach it.”
The Nuggets have reached it and will be jockeying for a high playoff seed again. The Wolves will try to learn what they can from them.
“I ain’t never had no consistency off or on the court, so we’ve got to get that done,” Towns said. “But [President] Gersson [Rosas], Ryan and the front office we have here is doing a great job of building something special here, and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it.”