Having pulled away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Play-In Tournament, the Timberwolves earned the right to face a more talented opponent. Though a less dangerous team without defensive specialist Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota still has plenty of talent, from three-time Defensive Player of the Year to savvy veteran Kyle Anderson. Furthermore, despite legitimate concerns about their chemistry and maturity, the Timberwolves have built some momentum by winning four of their last five games.
Meanwhile, the Nuggets hold the best record in the Western Conference at 53-29. This is in no small part because they’ve developed a tremendous amount of chemistry. Because they’re required to have a certain level of maturity to even play. Just as important though is that they have quite a bit of talent themselves. Led by two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets play an intelligent brand of basketball that relies on skill and basketball IQ more than physical attributes.
All of which leads to why the Nuggets will beat the Timberwolves in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
3 reasons Nuggets will beat Timberwolves in 2023 NBA Playoffs
When the going gets tough in a competitive environment, temperatures flare and teammates will have impassioned debates or discussions about what just transpired or what needs to be done. That much is normal. Expected.
However, what wasn’t normal — as even Timberwolves veteran Mike Conley Jr. noted — is taking a swing at a teammate in the middle of the game. Not that the Nuggets should be trying to get the Timberwolves to get into fights with each other but having a psychological edge over your opponent is any easy way to manipulate them into unnecessary mistakes.
Nuggets sixth man Bruce Brown having proven himself to be an effective agitator. Michael Porter Jr. is no stranger to getting his opponents temper to flare. Nikola Jokic either, while Jamal Murray is a fiery character himself. A dominant Denver team can — and probably will — have Minnesota out of sorts by the end of the series.
No Jaden McDaniels
Veteran forwards Taurean Prince and Kyle Anderson are strong defenders. However, Jaden McDaniels would have been the best defensive matchup for Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, McDaniels is out indefinitely with a fractured hand.
An extremely gifted shooter at 6-foot-10, Porter also loves to score at the rim as well. Whether making a 45 cut or crashing the offensive glass, MPJ makes sure his game isn’t restricted to the perimeter. Yet, Prince’s biggest weakness as a player is that he’s anemic to rebounding, while Anderson’s is a lack of foot speed.
In Anderson’s case, that would prevent him from keeping up with Porter in transition as well as being highly susceptible to MPJ attacking a closeout as well. Their best defensive option for MPJ is probably star big man Karl-Anthony Towns who has the height and rebounding ability to matchup well with him. However, KAT isn’t the best player when guarding in space either, while MPJ has improved at putting the ball on the floor to get a bucket.
Defensive wins championships
The old adage ‘defense wins championships’ is often put to the test. While it isn’t always true, a team certainly fares much better when they have a high-level defense. Especially in the NBA Playoffs, as a seven-game series becomes a chess match between players and coaches that have up to seven games to key in on even the most minute details about each other’s tendencies and strategies.
With that said, specific matchups often matter quick a lot, which is why a player that excels in drop coverage rather than in switching in space like Rudy Gobert must hate having to guard Nikola Jokic. Jokic shoots 38.3 percent from 3-point range, which is what many will look at as reason Gobert will have to guard the nimble 6-foot-11, 284-pound center.
However, Jokic only takes 2.2 3-attempts per game. The bigger issue for Gobert will be Jokic’s tendency to bring the ball up the court like a center, as it will only further entice him to step away from the rim. Those moments will be ones in which they can take full advantage of their mismatch, sneaking behind the back line of the defense. To that point, Jokic averaged 25.0 points and 12.7 assists against the Timberwolves this season.
Looking at the wing, Nuggets 3-and-D specialist Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will make Timberwolves rising star Anthony Edwards work for every point. Edwards, who averaged 24.6 points per game this season, averaged just 21.0 points per game against the Nuggets. He also went 5-26 from 3-point range. Unfortunately for Minnesota, Edwards focusing on a downhill attack would only serve to clog the paint, as they have a number of offensive options that are inefficient 3-point shooters.
If Edwards can’t get going, the Timberwolves will have to hope that Karl-Anthony Towns can.
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