The Denver Nuggets have recovered from a disappointing road trip with a strong homestand. Friday will determine if they head into another couple of hard road games on a winning streak or another disappointing loss.
The Nuggets are 4-0 since losing three of four games on an Eastern Conference swing, and to get their fifth straight win would require beating a struggling Minnesota team. The Timberwolves have lost eight in a row and now embark on a four-game road trip.
Minnesota’s streak continued Wednesday night with a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans — a team which entered that contest on its own 13-game losing streak. The Timberwolves played without star center Karl-Anthony Towns, who sat with a left knee sprain.
They might be without him again Friday, a potentially big blow going against the Northwest Division-leading Nuggets with the season going south quickly.
“We’ve just got to keep playing,” Timberwolves forward Robert Covington said after the loss to New Orleans. “It’s easy to lose faith. … Some people can get overwhelmed. Some people react or respond in the right way. We’ve just got to keep going.”
Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders acknowledged it has been tough on the team mentally.
“It’s heavy,” Saunders said. “When you lose games, it’s heavy. Especially on a streak. But I liked what we did the last couple days in practice. I know we felt good about those things.”
Denver has had its moments of self-doubt this season but has bounced back each time. Following Friday’s game, the Nuggets will be in Los Angeles on Sunday to play the Lakers — and look to atone for L.A.’s win in Denver on Dec. 3.
The risk is the Nuggets might overlook the wounded and struggling Timberwolves, but the lessons of the last two games should help keep them focused. Denver needed to rally in the fourth quarter against the seven-win New York Knicks on Sunday, and then fell behind by 19 to Orlando on Wednesday before scoring 24 straight in the third quarter and going on for the win.
The difference in the first half and second half of the win over the Magic was a better defensive effort, head coach Michael Malone said after the game. Despite being 10 games above .500, the Nuggets’ defense hasn’t been as good lately as it was earlier in the season.
“Our defense has kind of fallen back a little bit,” Malone said after Wednesday’s win. “The big thing that jumps out for me, we’re not guarding the paint as well as we did earlier in the year. Can we keep them out of the paint? Can we guard one-on-one? Can we give them one shot?”
If Towns doesn’t play, it will help Denver’s interior defense and possibly give center Nikola Jokic more room to work. Jokic is a big reason for the four-game winning streak and nearly had his third triple-double of the season Wednesday night (18 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds).
The Nuggets also benefitted from the return of Paul Millsap, who missed two games with a right quad strain, and put up 15 points and 12 rebounds.
–Field Level Media