TAMING THE T-WOLVES
Nikola Jokic leads team to win
The Nuggets and Timberwolves aren’t ships passing in the night as much as they are organizations on similar trajectories: Up, both teams hope.
There was a ton of good young talent on the court Wednesday night at the well-attended Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center. And it was the Denver’s young guns — and some older ones — that blazed the trail to a 105-103 win over Minnesota, marking the Nuggets’ second straight victory and fifth in their past seven games.
“It was huge to get the win,” Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler said. “We’d lost a few close games. It was good to get the win.”
Andrew Wiggins. Karl-Anthony Towns. Gary Harris. Emmanuel Mudiay. Zach LaVine. Nikola Jokic. Those are the names of the futures of both franchises. And all performed well. But aside from the high-octane scoring we’ve come to expect out of Wiggins — which he delivered — it was Jokic that stole the night. Again. If this is repetitive, it’s only because Jokic, 21, has been that consistent. Game after game he brings the most unique set of total skills of any center in the NBA. He scores in the post. He scores on the perimeter. He rebounds. He leads the fast break. He puts pretty much every pass on time and on target.
On Wednesday, those dimes piled up 11 high. It was a career high in assists, part of a near triple-double for Jokic that included 16 points and eight rebounds.
“It’s becoming a regular occasion for him to go out there and get double-figure assists,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
His game has taken an enormous jump from the start of the season to the level those around the franchise were certain he could reach. Not that this is the ceiling. But with him, the Nuggets play the brand of free-flowing basketball they’ve wanted to get to. If you’re looking for an identity, this is the one the Nuggets want to have.
“I just know I would love to play with him,” Malone said. “If you cut, he will find you. And there’s a good chance when he finds you, you’re going to have a layup.”
To get the win Wednesday, however, the Nuggets had to overcome a rarity with the new starting lineup — a slow start.
The Timberwolves, led by Andrew Wiggins, jumped all over the Nuggets at the start, scoring 31 points in the first quarter. They’d build a 13-point lead before the Nuggets got a foothold into the game. Defensive improvement was necessary, and the Nuggets got to it in the second quarter, holding the Timberwolves to 18 points to end the half tied.
The Nuggets did more separating in the third quarter, building an 11-point lead before the game settled into a fight in the fourth. Minnesota erased the lead and tied it at 103 with 58 seconds to play. Danilo Gallinari brought the crowd to its feet when he answered with a fadeaway bank shot to give the Nuggets the lead with 27 seconds left.
They made it stand up when Wilson Chandler blocked a Wiggins layup attempt on the ensuing possession. The ball was thrown back out by Harris into the back court, but LaVine tracked it down, sprinted up court and released what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer. It missed.
“I was like, ‘Please don’t make it, please don’t make it,’ ” Harris said. “I didn’t want them to get a possession right down there, so just throw it full court, waste some time and hopefully they didn’t make it. And that’s what happened.”
Gary Harris skies for a dunk against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second half of the Nuggets' 105-103 win Wednesday night. AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post