Good, great & ugly: Nuggets tame Timberwolves in Minnesota

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie (20) dribbles in the third quarter against Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) at Target Center.
Jan 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie (20) dribbles in the third quarter against Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Denver Nuggets still searching for their groove, they keep stacking up wins and that exact scenario played out in Minnesota against the Timberwolves who the Nuggets beat 107-100 to notch their 30th win in 43 tries.

The Nuggets were led by Michael Porter Jr., who continues to impress more and more as the season progresses. Still, despite Porter’s great game, the performances by Nikola Jokic and Will Barton III were just as important for Denver’s goal of grabbing another big win.

With the victory, the Nuggets win profile continues to look better and with that being said, here is the good, great, and ugly from Denver’s win over Minnesota.

Good – Michael Porter Jr. continues to show that he can be the superstar Denver has been searching for

For decades, the question looming over the Nuggets franchise was ‘how can they get superstar talent?’ and it seems that answer was more simple than it seemed all along.

All Denver had to do was hire president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, who found their first superstar in Nikola Jokic and drafted him with the 41st of the 2014 NBA Draft. With the added benefit of retrospect, it seems like an obvious choice, but the idea of building around Jokic — one of the most unique superstars of all time — was as unpredictable as it was genius.

Then, after building a strong team around Jokic, Connelly swung for the fences once again and took a chance on Porter with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, who at the time only had one surgical procedure on his back, but still came with some glaring red flags in terms of his health.

Now, two years after the drafting of Porter, the Nuggets look like they may have found their superstar pairing for Jokic which could drastically improve Denver’s odds of reaching their goals of bringing a NBA Championship to the Mile High City.

For evidence, look no further than Porter’s performance against the Timberwolves.

The Nuggets went into the Target Center to face off with Minnesota under less than ideal circumstances. They were on the second night of a back-to-back, were on the road, missing three of their starters, and were battling with a divisional rival in a game that could have major ramifications on the seeding in the Western Conference.

Despite all of that, Porter went out and put up 20 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes of action off of the bench. Porter hit 7-12 shots, was 4-8 from three-point range, and only committed a single turnover.

In his 30 minutes of action, the Nuggets outscored the Timberwolves by 17 points and, while plus/minus is usually an unreliable stat, the eye-test backed up those numbers. Porter directly led to improved team play by the Nuggets and he was a massive reason for Denver’s narrow victory. He was hitting 3-pointers, getting to the rim, drawing fouls, dropping dime after dime to his teammates, and he did all of that while being an elite rebounder. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Porter’s 14 rebounds were the most of any player on either team.

There are still lots of questions that Porter needs to answer, but he has shown that he has the skills to be one of the elite forwards in basketball.

Great – Nuggets get important win on the road against division-rival Minnesota Timberwolves

Not all wins or losses are created equal and the win the Nuggets managed to grab against the Timberwolves could end up being a big one in the grand scheme of things.

There are a couple reasons why this Nuggets win was so important so lets go step by step.

The first reason Denver’s matchup with Minnesota was so important is that it was a divisional matchup. The reason that is important is because a team’s division record comes into play when tiebreakers are being settled. This may seem premature to be talking about with the season barely halfway over, but at the time of this writing, the Nuggets are in a three-way tie with the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers for the second seed in the death gauntlet that is the Western Conference. Despite being tied with those two teams, the Nuggets are currently holding down the second seed because of their unblemished 6-0 record against their division. Simply stated, the more wins against a team gets against their own division, the better chance they have of making and improving their seeding heading into the playoffs. Denver being one of just three teams still undefeated in their division games is a very good sign.

Secondly, the Nuggets had no business winning this game which makes their win free money so to speak. Denver was playing on the road for their sixth game in 10 nights on the second night of a back-to-back — as their third-straight back-to-back in a row nonetheless — after landing in the middle of the night in Minnesota, which was a cool five degrees outside when the Nuggets landed. Oh, and on top of that, they were without Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap with Will Barton III playing hurt.

To win that game took guts so Denver dug deep and came away win a big-time win.

Ugly – Nuggets head to Houston with tons of guys banged up

While the win was the most important thing, the Nuggets did not get it without a cost.

Despite being without the likes of Murray, Harris and Millsap — three starters — the Nuggets also now have to worry about the status of Mason Plumlee, who came down from trying to grab a rebound and rolled his ankle pretty badly.

Plumlee was able to play during the second half, but Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after the game that he was surprised that Plumlee played at all after the injury. If Plumlee ends up missing time in addition to Millsap, the Nuggets will suddenly be down to Jokic and Jerami Grant as their only two true bigs on the team and lots of questions to answer. Would they play Grant as their backup center and start Porter at power forward? Would they start Grant and just stagger him to bench lineups and play him a ton of minutes? How many minutes is Jokic going to play without Millsap or Plumlee active? All of those questions have no answers for now and there will be no answers until further testing is done on Plumlee’s ankle.

To make matters worse, Malone revealed in his post game press conference that he was not sure if Will Barton III was going to play against the Timberwolves at all. His injury is still a mystery being that he has not been on the Nuggets injury report recently.

Denver takes on the Houston Rockets in on Wednesday night and there is no telling who is going to play and who will be out, but one thing is for sure — Denver is going to have to manage the health of quite a few players as they gear up for the playoffs.

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