Wolves 111, Nuggets 108: Clash of the Titans

The Wolves defeated the Denver Nuggets 111-108 Sunday night. The victory was the Wolves’ fourth straight win at home, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 2012, and also broke the team’s four-game losing streak to the Nuggets.

However, the main storyline of the night was the matchup between two of the NBA’s most talented big men: Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic. Both player’s games are thrilling and beautiful in their own ways. Towns boasts speed, the perfect combination of power and fineness, and ball-handling abilities that should not be able to be possessed by a seven-footer, while Jokic is a stunning passer who plays with underrated physicality and possesses a light shooting touch. Really, both players are solid passers, though Jokic gets the edge because he has better vision and natural ability and because Towns could still be better at passing out of double teams (though he is improving). Towns likes to dribble down defenders in the post or drive on them from the wing, whereas Jokic typically shoots immediately upon receiving the ball (74.7% of his shots occur without dribbling, according to NBA.com). Jokic often finds the cracks in the defense and exploits them to set himself up for good looks, both from mid-range and near the basket; perhaps this is why he is often thought of as being more of a fineness player, despite his physicality and tenacity.

On nights when he’s feeling it, and Sunday night he was feeling it, Towns is able to harness his abilities and unleash his offensive talent in ways that are neigh unstoppable. At some point during the third quarter, Towns began to take his battle with Jokic personally, which led to him three turn-around fade-away jumpers over the stout Serbian and a dunk that sent the poor man into oblivion. Towns scored 11 points in the frame (he finished with a line of 32 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks, and was a +6; Jokic finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals, and was a -7).

Both players have room to grow on defense, but they are undoubtedly two of the more intriguing prospects in the NBA. The sky is the limit for both of them, and it will be ridiculously fun watching them usher in a new era in league history alongside the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, New York Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, New Orleans’ Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, and Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner.

The future of the NBA resides in big men, specifically centers, who can perform like guards on offense and protect the rim on defense. This type of player is a new breed of unicorn, one that has rarely been seen throughout NBA history, and all the above-mentioned players have shown magical flashes. Buckle up, everybody, it is going to be a wild, extremely fun ride.

Notes:

  • Kris Dunn played perhaps his greatest game to date. He filled in admirably for Ricky Rubio who was away from the team due to the death of his grandmother. Our thoughts and prayers are with Rubio and his family during these trying times. Dunn finished dangerously close to a triple-double, posting a line of 10 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, three steals, one block, and a team high +14. Not bad, not bad at all.
  • Tyus Jones played decently as well, tallying nine points and four assists of his own in addition to closing the game alongside Dunn in place of the struggling Zach LaVine. After the game, Thibodeau said, “We had a lot of guys step up. I thought the way Kris started the game was huge and of course Tyus down the stretch also. Tyus and Kris together played really well.” He continued, “I thought we got good minutes out of them the last game too. What you guys don’t see is that they play a lot together in practice, so they have very good chemistry in practice and you feel like it’ll work in a game, too. I like that look; I like what it does for us. It gives us multiple guys who can go off the dribble, force the defense to collapse, and then make the play.”
  • Shabazz Muhammad also had a strong game with 20 points, five rebounds, and a +8 in 33 minutes off the bench. For the most part, he provided good energy and stability on offense, the latter of which can’t always be said. It seems like as Bazz goes, so too goes the bench and, often times, the Wolves’ chances of winning.
  • Andrew Wiggins, who scored 24 points and added four rebounds and four assists, scored his 4,000th career point, and Towns his 1,000th career bucket Sunday night.
  • The Wolves are now 10-10 in their last 20 games (h/t to 1500 ESPN’s Derek James).
  • Brandon Rush was once again a DNP-Coach’s Decision.
  • Wolves next play Tuesday night at the Phoenix Suns. Tip is scheduled for 8 p.m.
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6 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    I was pleased with how guys stepped up in Rubio’s absence in this game. I think it was Dunn’s best game so far, and Tyus delivered what we’ve come to expect from him, solid, smart basketball.

    I think Towns is officially out of his sophomore slump that he started the season with. There was a certain awkwardness to his game early, which seemed to be fueled by trying to do too much. During this time, his D was not improving and looked really bad at times. Now, he is slowly improving on D and really a force of nature on offense. All the awkwardness is gone and he is ripping off monster games with ease. Of note—he only tried one three today (scored as a 2 because his foot was on the line) yet still put up 32 points. There may be a lesson here…

    Great to see Shabazz playing the way he was supposed to all year, and the way I know he can. If he does this, I like him on the team, if it’s patchy, I don’t. There’s just not a huge margin of error for such an odd talent with a few very specific go-to moves and not much else. He’s a cool player when he’s clicking and is an upbeat guy in the locker room.

    In a way, I could see this game coming. The first reaction is, ‘oh no, Rubio is out, we’re gonna have a tough game’ but often when there is a shake up players respond–they actually bring more energy. It seems to shock them into a new level of effort and there is certainly the ‘to prove a point’ aspect to they way they play—they want to prove themselves to be up to the challenge. Teams also don’t have a Tyus or Dunn led team scouted. So a lot of this negates the loss of Rubio in a small sample size. So it isn’t surprising that the Wolves responded and were able to pull this out. It was fun to see and good for the team in a lot of ways. Dunn, specifically, really played his ‘as advertised’ game. He defended well all around—not just in a few highlight moments. His help D was generally smart and aggressive and it looks like he’s been learning by watching how Rubio does help D. Interestingly, when Thibs decided to play Dunn and Jones together at the end, Jones was playing PG and Dunn SG. This might be a size thing, but as good as Dunn looked and as well as he stuffed stats, Jones (and Rubio) still run the offense better, especially in crunch time.

    There is a trap here though, that relates to my ‘stepping up’ thoughts in the previous paragraph. This was a sort of a confirmation bias game for Thibs and like minded folks. Suddenly, Dunn looked like the player who can and will replace Rubio and be a starter on a playoff team. Suddenly, our offense looked perfect despite being rather boring and easy to break down, strategically. Suddenly, all the switches and helps of a complex Thibs D didn’t look over anyone’s head. Suddenly LaVine looks like a loose third wheel and expendable. Suddenly Wiggins is our clutch 3 point shot maker. The reality is most of this won’t stay this way for long (or even next game). This was just one game against a team that is of similar ability (and we barely pulled it out). Unfortunately, Dunn has had major problems with consistency and will continue to, although I think this game will give his confidence a needed boost. He does some things better than Rubio, like block shots, be a bit of a physical bully and score in bunches (extremely rare but still a more natural scorer than Ricky). But even if he plays at this level all the time, he still lacks a certain excitement and disconcerting aspect that Rubio has. LaVine has been awful since his injury. It’s getting a bit worrisome, but I think he’ll be OK. In this game he made a lot of poor choices and just didn’t look like himself. But he will get on track and should be considered with an open mind as an important part of the future. Against better teams, we are still going to struggle on D and even O. We gave up 108 points in this game, in what I would call a good defensive effort for this team, but really during certain stretches we couldn’t stop Denver. What about good teams? Defensively, Denver is not good and we will have to learn how to find an advantage (one that can make up for our permissive team D) against better defensive teams who break down our simple and slow (and at times stagnant) offensive sets. This game was more of a blip than a way to successfully move forward as a team right now. I saw a lot of really positive things, and we can take bits and pieces of those positives and use them to make us a better team, even knowing we can’t function as a successful team by playing this way with these players every night.

  2. Tom says:

    The wolves bigs were finally able to compete with the bigger Nugs front court and Galinari didn’t explode as in the past games with Denver. This is progress, but as Pyrrol mentions, let’s not assume that the wolves will have learned anything or turned a corner. They could take this opportunity and flush it down with lackluster performances in Phoenix or the home stand.

    The big matchup tonight, reminded me of KG vs Duncan. jokic being the minimalist TD, and KAT having an array of fall-a-way jumpers and athletic dunks like the big ticket. The difference being that Denver isn’t San Antonio, so maybe a true rivalry will emerge. As good as KAT is, he is only one of a growing group of bigs that are reclaiming the league. He needs to get stronger, if he wants to be viewed as the best of the bunch.

  3. Drew J says:

    First time responding, love the blog.

    Last nights game was a really fun watch. Towns was of course spectacular and Wiggins had his (IMO) ideal second-fiddle playing beautifully. Wigs just plays so much smarter when he’s not expected to headline the offensive attack. Last night he went 24-4-4 shooting 10/19, which isn’t eye popping, but still solid. Of course, he took and made several long two’s, which he should really try and eliminate from his arsenal–especially the type he settles for on isolation plays.

    The real reason I wanted to reply, though, is to address the 6’5,” cloud-grazing, rainbow-jump-shot-making elephant in the room: Zach Lavine. He is one of my favorite players to watch and root for. He is turning into a fantastic scorer and always has been an elite athlete. The things League Pass dreams are made of. However, the evidence continues to pile up that he makes this team worse. Last night was just another recent example: he was shooting poorly, taking bad shots (I thought Jim Petersen was going to throw his mic at Lavine on one such attempt), and the wolves were one or two more Denver buckets away from letting (another) game slip away before Thibs called a TO, benched Zach for the remainder, and paired up Dunn and Tyus for the homestretch. I hate relying on anecdotal evidence, but multiple, similar anecdotes begin to establish a trend, and trends are much more credible. (Note: the stats play this out as well. Zach was -7 and shot 2-8 in 33 mins, while Dunn was +14 and shot a marginally better 3-8–all in the first 5 or 6 minutes I believe–but added 8 boards, 9 assists and 3 steals. Tyus was -9, also shot 3-8 and played some of the best perimeter defense I’ve ever seen him play, using his over-sized brain and basketball IQ to compensate for his undersized frame).

    As I said before, I love Zach. He shoots a good percentage from 3 (though maybe we should slow down with labeling him a 40% three-point shooter, his career rate is .384 and he is so up and down that it’s hard to pin down exactly HOW good he is from deep), and his dunks are as jaw-dropping as they are good for a small-market franchise in attracting eyeballs. But I also loved Michael Beasley, as I’m sure many of us did. He was fun to watch and could score with the best of them when he was on. But he doesn’t play winning basketball, maybe Zach doesn’t either.

    I really don’t know what the answer here is other than “give it time.” He seems too good an asset to give up at this point and I think moving Rubio, as much as that will hurt my heart, is more pressing at this point. A lot of commenters and bloggers on this site have proposed moving Zach to the bench. On its face this doesn’t seem like the worst option, but it’s almost certain to lead to Zach leaving after his rookie contract is up and Towns and Wigs get the two max-level deals the Wolves can dole out.

    • pyrrol says:

      Drew J, welcome to the comments! I enjoy your remarks above.

      I agree with you that Wiggins is more of a 2nd fiddle. Maybe he has 1st fiddle talent, but his personality and drive may not be compatible with that type of role. I think pushing him towards being a 1st fiddle to grow his personality and push his abilities is wise to a degree. But this can be overdone at the expense of others’ development and can create a rift between reality and a perceived role a player can actually fill. Early, I think these things were issues. In recent games, not so much, but I’m still worried that Thibs is forcing Wiggins into a mold he doesn’t fit.

      I think Towns is a 1st fiddle and I think LaVine can be. He has the personality, and talent. But not the discipline and knowledge of the game. Can he get to that point? It remains an open question. I consider it more likely than Wiggins filling a lead role, though. It can be good or bad to have two 1st fiddles. In OKC is worked to create a good team, but it eventually created tension and they could never get over the hump with two competing stars. It caused a break up which didn’t make the team better. So there is danger lurking. But you also don’t want a team that relies on only one guy night after night without someone else ready to be Batman when needed. Could Towns and LaVine take turns being Batman with Wiggins as a consistent, potent Robin someday?

      If the time and energy (both in game and in practice/film) that has been devoted to developing Wiggins is also devoted to LaVine, I think it is only a matter of time before he becomes a very good player. This is just my hope and educated guess. Who knows? I do know he deserves the patience and attention Wiggins has received. His recent play has been frustrating and makes me doubt my confidence about his future. Still, I’m happy to give it time and I’d like to see a very open mind from Thibs (his perceived roles for players have already been too crystallized and stiff for me thus far).

      Keep commenting!

  4. Jello says:

    Kris Dunn played pretty well but this game still depended on making tough turnarounds and long two point jump shots. I just don’t see Kris leading an efficient offense where we can get easy twos and he can’t shoot the three so the offensive output will always be inefficient and rely on us hitting bad shots at a higher rate than average. That is unless we can be a defensive juggernaut which is the hope for Dunn but we’d need quite a few pieces if we want to make that our team’s identity. Even at his best (in this game), Dunn is still a role-player in my opinion.

    When all star voting started I didn’t think Towns deserved to be in the game, his offense was good but not amazing and his defense was bad. But he’s really stepped up his game and I think he’s earned a reserve spot at this point. His offensive game is crazy good and his defense is at least passable lately. He’s certainly seemed extra motivated and seems to feel disrespected. I kinda hope he doesn’t get selected as a reserve just so we can get some extra games of angry KAT yelling at the basketball hoop.

  5. Tom says:

    It was the most complete game Dunn has played to date, but it seems he needs Tyus at his hip to prevent bad decisions and miscues. If he and LaVine could play well together, maybe Rubio is going to be replaced by Dunn. A lineup of Dunn, LaVine, Wiggins, KAT and a true stretch four or shot blocking big would give Thibs, Rubio,G,Rush, Baz and either Bjelly or Cole. Trade the Belly with Tyus or Cole for a solid big and you have the looks of a playoff team. Teams will like the inexpensive player to free themselves this summer. Especially if the are old (Dallas) or going no where (Indiana, NewYork, Lakers)

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