Monday, May 20, 2024

2024 NBA Playoffs preview, prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets

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This will be the best series of the second round.

Denver is the class of the West, the defending NBA champions led by the best player on the planet in Nikola Jokic. Minnesota lacks hat experience but is the only other team left in the postseason that can match their size along the front line. This promises to be a physical series.

A year ago these two teams met in the first round and, while Denver won in five games, Minnesota started to figure things out by the end, and the Nuggets later said it might have been their toughest playoff series. This season the teams split their series 2-2.

This is going to be a hard-fought second-round series. Here’s a breakdown of the series — including three things to watch for — and a prediction at the end.

When does the Timberwolves vs. Nuggets begin?

Game One between the Timberwolves and Nuggets is Saturday, May 4, at 7 ET in Denver, with the game broadcast on TNT.

Minnesota vs. Denver Playoffs Schedule 2024

All times are Eastern (* = if necessary).
Game 1: Timberwolves at Nuggets, May 4 (7 ET, TNT)
Game 2: Timberwolves at Nuggets, May 6 (10 ET, TNT)
Game 3: Nuggets at Timberwolves, May 10 (9:30ET, ESPN)
Game 4: Nuggets at Timberwolves, May 12 (8 ET, TNT)
Game 5: Timberwolves at Nuggets, May 14 (TBD, TNT)*
Game 6: Nuggets at Timberwolves, May 16 (8:30 ET, ESPN)*
Game 7: Timberwolves at Nuggets, May 19 (TBD, TBD)*

Three things to watch for in Minnesota vs. Denver

1) Can Timberwolves execute under pressure

There’s a fascinating chess match in his series. Do the Timberwolves put Karl-Anthony Towns on Jokic and have Rudy Gobert on Aaron Gordon and in a good help position? Jaden McDaniels on Jamal Murray? On the other side of the court, how do the Timberwolves drag Jokic into high pick-and-rolls to try and wear him down? All that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Those matchup challenges are not what makes Denver elite — it is their otherworldly execution. The continuity of the same great players in the same system for years has given them an almost intuitive understanding of where the other players will be on the court and when they might cut or pop out. Jokic’s passing is always pinpoint. It’s that ability to adjust on the fly, almost without words, that makes the Nuggets so hard to defend.

Can Minnesota execute at near that level? The question isn’t talent — the Timberwolves have that — but this team struggled all season in the clutch. Minnesota had a -13.1 net rating in clutch minutes (the last five minutes of a game within five points), while Denver led the league with a +24.5 net rating.

That could be the difference in the series, can the Timberwolves execute at the level they must not to lose games in the final minutes?

2) Can Karl-Anthony Towns, others provide enough secondary scoring?

Anthony Edwards is going to get his. The breakout superstar of these playoffs will be tested being guarded by Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but he has reached the superstar point already that you can bank on him getting buckets.

Will he get enough support? Specifically, will Towns step up as the second scorer this team needs in this series, knocking down outside shots and spacing the floor to open up driving lanes? McDaniels had a 25-point game last series, can he have another strong outing or two? Can Gobert get buckets in the paint? Mike Conley and Gobert have a strong pick-and-roll chemistry that can lead to buckets.

As great as Minnesota’s defense is, Denver is going to score. Jokic is too good, the Jokic/Murray pick-and-roll is as great a two-man game as there is in the league. To have a chance in this series, the Timberwolves will need to consistently get buckets and someone other than Edwards will have to carry some of that load.

3) Can Timberwolves dominate non-Jokic minutes?

This item could have been, “Is Jamal Murray’s calf healthy?” If the answer is no, then it is the biggest story in this series, but because he just played through the calf issue in Game 5 against the Lakers and then got five days off, we’re going to assume he is good to go.

Which brings us to the non-Jokic minutes. There are not many of them in the playoffs, but the Timberwolves need to dominate them. The Lakers did not, across the five games they were just +8 in the non-Jokic minutes, that was simply not enough of a gap.

To win this series, Minnesota has to dominate the hon-Jokic minutes.

It also would help — and just be good to see — their injured coach Chris Finch in the sidelines.

Prediction: Nuggets in 7

This is going to be close. Denver doesn’t have the depth it did a season ago (they miss Bruce Brown), and Minnesota is improving game by game, especially in confidence. However, I trust the Nuggets to execute better at the end of tight games. This series goes six or seven games, but the defending champs advance.

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