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"It's not going to happen overnight,": Nuggets, Timberwolves experience growing pains with young rosters

T.J. McBride Avatar
December 28, 2016

 

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DENVER — The Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves both come into tonight’s matchup at the Pepsi Center looking to build on recent success. The Nuggets are 4-2 in the last six games, including a three-game home winning streak that was snapped by the Atlanta Hawks, while the Timberwolves have won four of their last seven contests after going 1-9 in their ten games prior.

Regular season game No. 31 | Denver Nuggets (13-18) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (10-21)

Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado  | 7:00 PM MST | TV: Altitude

Here are a few storylines to watch for tonight:

Youth on both sides

Learning to win has been a focal point for both the Timberwolves and the Nuggets throughout the season. Being that both rosters are abundant with young talent means that the experience needed to win close games is lacking. Both teams have lost big leads and have had a roller coaster of ups and downs so far this season.

“You have to step back and realize all the young players [Tom Thibodeau] has and all the young players we have. This is a journey,” Michael Malone said at shootaround Wednesday. “It’s not going to happen overnight and you have to be willing to understand that to get through those tough times. We have had a ton of tough losses. We’re 13-18 and we’ve probably easily blown five games. Same thing for these guys.”

“I think what you see with a lot of teams, like Minnesota, like us, when you have such a young team you will be challenged to play consistent basketball,” Malone said. “There will be a lot of ups and downs, not just game to game. But you look at a lot of their games they have had big leads that they haven’t been able to close out and that speaks to a lack of experience and playing lots of young players.”

It is highly likely that the team that makes the fewest mistakes comes out of tonight’s game with a victory.

Slowing down LaVine

While it’s easy to talk about the matchup of Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns as the main attraction, it’s the battle between Gary Harris and the explosive Zach LaVine that seems even more interesting. Recently, LaVine has been incendiary from beyond the arc. Over the past five games, LaVine has made 27 of 49 threes, good for 55 percent from distance.

“You look at the level he is playing at right now, he has really grown up and is really maturing and it is so easy for him,” Malone said of LaVine. “That is what is so amazing. When you watch him play you see he is a big time athlete but if you just call him an athlete you are doing him a disservice because he has grown into a heck of a basketball player.”

The Nuggets will need Harris to slow LaVine if they hope to continue their recent success at the Pepsi Center. Harris is the best perimeter defender on the roster and will need every move in his arsenal to slow the offensive force that is LaVine.

Be on the look out for this matchup all night.

Keeping on the gas

The Nuggets are 4-2 in their last six games. While they have not played any semblance of defense, they are scoring 115.3 points per game in that span, good for second in the league. The Nuggets are also moving the ball well with 26 assists per night, third best in the league over the past six games. While all these numbers are fantastic, Denver needs to keep on the gas if they hope to make the playoffs.

“By no means is Minnesota going to come in here and roll over for us, but the fact that regardless of who played for the Clippers the other night, we weathered the storm,” Malone said. “That third was a bad quarter for us, giving the lead up, but we made enough plays down the stretch, both offensively and defensively, to get that win on the road which has been an issue for us at times this year. Now we have a chance to have two home games against Minnesota, a division rival, and then Philadelphia, both teams that we have already played one time. Going into the new year 15-18, that is a hell of a lot better than 13-20.”

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