A 38-point, 19 rebound and eight assist game from Nikola Jokic wasn’t enough to secure the victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. The Denver Nuggets were down by as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter only to cut their deficit to three with 24 seconds left. The Timberwolves were able to hang on for the 136-130 win. Minnesota won three of their four matchups against Denver this season. 

“That team has beaten us three straight times,” Michael Malone said. “Game two and three were blow outs for them, tonight was a game… but one of our biggest problems is that we continue to beat ourselves.” 

Turnovers were once again a big issue for the Nuggets. They turned the ball over 18 times which led to 30 points for the Timberwolves. Minnesota was also red hot from beyond the arc hitting 19 3-pointers. Karl-Anthony Towns put up 32 points and nine rebounds for the Timberwolves but it was their bench that made the difference by outscoring the Nuggets’ bench 49-29. 

“Our second unit has to be better,” Malone said. “Teams are getting into the bonus in the second and fourth quarter with eight minutes to go. So now when our starting group comes in they’re being forced to not foul for eight minutes. That is really hard.” 

Minnesota went 31 of 36 from the free throw line while Denver went 26 of 29. D’Angelo Russell went 10 of 11 from the charity stripe for the Timberwolves and finished the game with 24 points. 

Minnesota opened the second quarter on a 9-2 run to go up 49-37. DeMarcus Cousins committed his fourth foul and was called for a technical so Nikola Jokic had to check into the game early at the 10:12 mark. Denver then put together an 11-3 run fueled by three Aaron Gordon dunks including a reverse dunk that had the crowd go wild. Denver got to within two points but the Timberwolves still had a 70-65 lead at the half. 

“I keep forgetting he was in the dunk contest,” Monte Morris said about Gordon. “Probably one of the best ever so I love to see him play with that aggression and dunking like that. That’s what we always ask from him just playing downhill.” 

Morris said that Gordon’s reverse dunk was on purpose and that he said he was more comfortable going backwards. Morris finished the night with 23 points. Gordon scored 24 points. 

The Timberwolves went on a 9-2 run to start the third and took a 79-67 lead. Denver called a timeout and then responded with a 7-0 run to cut its deficit to five. Later in the quarter, the Nuggets went on a 7-0 run to tie it up at 83 and eventually took their first lead of the game since early in the first. Minnesota managed to hang on to a 98-94 lead to end the quarter. 

The Timberwolves continued showing their dominance in the fourth quarter and went up 115-102 after going on a 17-8 run. The Nuggets had trouble taking care of the basketball and committed six turnovers which led to nine unanswered points. With 24 seconds left, Denver got to within three points but Minnesota was able to hang onto the 136-130 lead. 

The Nuggets have four games left of the regular season and play the Los Angeles Lakers in LA on Sunday afternoon. They host their final three games at Ball Arena against the San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Lakers. Malone was asked of the possibility of Jamal Murray potentially returning to one of those games.

“Jamal is getting better everyday,” Malone said. “Trust me. We all want him back. I want him back. We’re a better team with Jamal Murray and he wants to be back. He’s making great progress but I can’t sit here and say he’s going to play in any of the last four games. I also can’t say that he won’t.”

It has almost been one full year since Murray played. On April 12, 2021 he went down with a non-contact injury and suffered a torn left ACL. He was averaging 21, four rebounds and five assists per game before he went down and there has been no timetable for his return.

Denver is 46-32 and now in sixth place in the Western Conference standings, two games ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota also has four games left of the regular season against the Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls so it’s still to be determined who is safe from having to play in the play-in tournament.