Timberwolves vs. Nuggets NBA playoff match-ups, prediction, statistics

Timberwolves vs. Nuggets NBA playoff match-ups, prediction, statistics
Timberwolves vs. Nuggets NBA playoff match-ups, prediction, statistics
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Timberwolves’ first round

They swept Phoenix 4-0 in a Western Conference playoff series pitting the third- and sixth-seeded teams, winning 120-95 and 105-93 at Target Center and 126-109 and 122-116 at Phoenix. It was the first 4-0 sweep in Minnesota pro sports history.

Star guard Anthony Edwards averaged 31.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists and shot 51% from the field, 44% on three-pointers and 84% on free throws. Included was a 40-point night (31 after halftime) in clinching Game 4.

Key number

100,000,000

Edwards has generated more than 100 million video views across NBA social and digital platforms since the playoffs started. That’s second only to LeBron James (130M). Ant has gained the most Instagram followers in that time, too.

Did you know?

Edwards’ 40-point, nine-rebound, six-assist night clinching the four-game sweep makes him the fourth player since 1962 to reach such levels in a winning closeout game — and the first since Michael Jordan on May 7, 1989. The others: Magic Johnson in 1980 and John Havlicek in 1968.

Nuggets’ first round

They beat the LA Lakers 4-1 in their meeting of the 2nd and 7th teams, winning every game but a 119-108 road loss in Game 4. The Nuggets won their four 114-103, 101-99 and 108-106 at home and 112-105 in LA. Their lone loss was 119-108 in LA.

The Nuggets beat the Wolves 4-1 in their first-round series last season on their way to winning the NBA title.

Key number

33-8

Nuggets’ regular-season home record after beating the Wolves 116-107 on April 10. They tied the franchise record for most victories in a season by finishing 57-25. That earned the West’s second seed. Oklahoma City is first, the Wolves third. The Wolves were 26-15 on the road.

Did you know?

Jamal Murray is the only player to score two game-winning shots in the final five seconds of a playoff series. He did so in Games 2 and 5.

Individual matchups

Point guard

Mike Conley, Wolves

At 36, he’s only one of five Wolves players who have advanced out of the playoffs’ first round, for the fourth time in his 17-year NBA career but first since 2015. “The lights get brighter, the moments get bigger and teams get smarter figuring out what other teams did against you,” he said. “You have to find a way to win. It’s going to take a lot — and a lot physically — from us.” He was third in the NBA in three-point shooting during the regular season, at 44.2%.

Jamal Murray, Nuggets

Bypassed by the Wolves so they could take Kris Dunn in the 2016 NBA draft instead, Murray has been the clutch scorer who showed it not once, but twice with buzzer-beating shots in the Nuggets’ five-game, first-round victory over the Lakers. He hit tough winners in Games 2 and 5, adding to what coach Mike Malone called “his playoff lore.” He was questionable for Game 5 because of a calf injury and scored 32 points, including the final two. “I’m not sitting,” Murray said in a TNT postgame interview. “I don’t care whatever it is we have to figure out. I’m just thankful they let me play.”

Edge: Nuggets

Shooting guard

Anthony Edwards, Wolves

The first-round sweep was a coming-out party for the 22-year-old on the big stage by scoring 33, 15, 36 and 40 in the four games. And in Game 2 when he went 3-for-12, he had a team-high eight assists and three steals. Coach Chris Finch praised him for making the right play “every time” in both that game and the series. Will the Nuggets go big and defend him with power forward Aaron Gordon rather than a guard? He’s the ninth-youngest player in NBA history to deliver a 40-point, five-rebound, five-assist, two-block playoff game, behind only Tracy McGrady, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. TNT analyst Charles Barkley likened Ant to such players as Kobe Bryant and Michael Johnson for his killer instinct.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Another would-be Wolf. Then Wolves basketball boss Flip Saunders coveted the Georgia guard in his first draft back with the team in 2013, but Detroit plucked Caldwell-Pope eighth. So the Wolves traded their ninth pick to Utah for picks 14th and 21st, which they used to take Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng with both Giannis Antetokounmpo at 14 and Rudy Gobert on the board. Denver acquired him in a July 2022 trade with Washington that sent away current Wolf Monte Morris. He averaged 8.4 points as a starter in the Nuggets’ first-round series, but he is their best defender and a candidate for the NBA All-Defensive team. “If that guy is not considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, I don’t know who is,” Malone said after Caldwell-Pope held Golden State’s Steph Curry to 7-for-21 shooting on Christmas Day.

Edge: Wolves

Small forward

Jaden McDaniels, Wolves

He sandwiched his 25-point night in Game 2 around single-digit nine- and five-point games, but defended everywhere, and almost everyone, from Devin Booker and Bradley Beal to Kevin Durant. Expect McDaniels to defend Murray everywhere this time around. “We have multiple versatile people who can play defense,” McDaniels said. “I don’t care who I guard. We don’t care who we guard. We just take pride in not letting our man score.” He missed last year’s playoffs because of a self-inflicted hand injury sustained punching a wall, but played a big role in the first-round sweep on both ends.

Michael Porter Jr., Nuggets

When his team needed scoring in their five-game series with the Lakers, shooter Porter stepped up. He averaged 22.8 points, shot better than 55% in the series and scored 26 in Monday’s Game 5 108-106 home victory that kept the Nuggets from going back to LA. He went 8-for-12 and made five of seven threes. “I was knocking down shot after shot,” said Porter, who set the franchise record for threes in a season this year. “I’ve done that my whole career.” Denver took a chance and selected Porter after he dropped to 14th in the 2018 draft due to a serious back surgery.

Edge: Even.

Power forward

Karl-Anthony Towns, Wolves

He’s back after missing a month after knee surgery, with a playoff series behind him. His 28-point, four-three pointer, 10-rebound night in Game 4 against Phoenix came because, Edwards said, KAT stopped fouling in matchups that included defending Suns superstar Durant on the perimeter. “If you watch the game, every time we would grow a lead in the third quarter, it’s because he’s in the game,” Edwards said afterwards. “They don’t have a matchup for him. I’m like, ‘KAT, we’re not going to win Game 4 if you keep fouling — and you keep fouling.’ He’s the best offensive player on the team. If he’s not in foul trouble, it’s a problem for any team because he can stretch the floor, he can play off the catch, he can do everything we keep him from foul trouble, he’s going to be great every night.” The Wolves used Towns and Kyle Anderson, among others, to defend the unstoppable Nikola Jokic in last year’s playoffs. About his foul trouble in the Suns’ series, KAT said, “Probably because I was trying to play more defense.”

Aaron Gordon, Nuggets

Versatile and athletic, Gordon at age 28 does the little things for a championship-caliber team. He shot 29% on threes in the regular season, then went 1-for-10 against the Lakers. But he scored 29 points on 12-for-18 shots and had 15 rebounds in Game 3 of a series when he defended LeBron James and Anthony Davis all night. “I’m a utility guy, I do a bit of everything, do a little bit of a lot,” Gordon told reporters after Game 3. He had 19 offensive rebounds in the 4-1 series victory. Both points and rebounds were his career playoff highs. It was also his sixth playoff double-double for a Denver team that’s 5-1 when he reaches double figures in both. The Nuggets are 24-9 this season when he scores at least 15 points. “What you love about Aaron Gordon is there’s never any complaining,” Malone said. “He just goes out there and does his job.”

Edge: Wolves

Center

Rudy Gobert, Wolves

The Wolves showed Sunday they can play without his anchoring presence for a while. He found foul trouble 55 seconds into the third quarter. By quarter’s end, the Wolves outscored the Suns 34-31 without him and won by six. With Gobert out, opponents attack the paint, which requires the Wolves to pressure the ball at the point of attack. They also need to get size near the basket. “Make sure we’re strong on the ball, no blow-bys, and then have another body,” assistant coach Micah Nori said. “It’s not the same protection we get with Rudy, but force the kickouts. The advantage we had going small is we were able to fly around. Our rotations were very, very clean and they didn’t get many good looks, especially from three .” Gobert won’t have to do all his work defensively against Denver’s bully-ball center Jokic, but he’ll have to do his part along with Towns, Reid, Anderson and others.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

The two-time league MVP (and headed toward his third) went 25-20-9 in Monday’s Game 5 victory. That was pure perfection, Malone slyly suggested to reporters and ultimately game officials. “The most amazing stat was that he was 0-0 [from the free-throw line],” Malone said. “He did not miss a free throw.” Jokic went 12-for-21 from the field, 1-for-5 on threes. The question is how will the Wolves defend the best player on the planet. The answer is, probably with everyone. They have used traditional-matchup Gobert as well as Towns and Anderson. This time they’ve got a healthy Naz Reid, too, unlike last season.

Edge: Nuggets

Bench

The Wolves acquired guard Monte Morris in February specifically for his playoff experience. He has played 51 postseason games, 48 ​​of them over four-plus seasons with the Nuggets, and has gone as far as the 2020 Western Conference final. He played nine or 10 minutes in each of the Wolves’ first three playoff games and not at all in Game 4. Naz Reid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have been here before and savvy playoff vet Anderson provides toughness, defense and three-point shooting. Denver’s seven- or eight-man rotation includes Reggie Jackson and Justin Holiday as well as second-year players Peyton Watson and Christian Braun.

Edge: Wolves

Coaching

Finch was Malone’s assistant for the 2016-17 season. Malone led the Nuggets to the title a year ago and reached the Western Conference finals once (2020) and the conference semis twice. Finch, in his fourth season with the Wolves, led the team out of the first round for the first time since 2004. He’s coaching injured after he ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee in an inadvertent collision with Conley on the sideline on Sunday.

Edge: Nuggets

Star Tribune prediction

This could be one for the ages: The defending NBA champs against a Wolves team Malone calls “a beast.” Even TNT analyst Barkley is excited about a potentially long, physical, suspenseful series. “This is going to be big-boy basketball,” he said on air after Denver advanced Monday. “Big grown-man basketball. I cannot wait until Saturday.”

After underestimating their toughness, depth and maybe even their karma in the first round, the Wolves will win in six games over the champions.

The article is in Latvian

Tags: Timberwolves Nuggets NBA playoff matchups prediction statistics

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