NUGGETS

Nuggets prove they have cut the dead weight in disassembling of Wolves

Apr 26, 2023, 1:08 AM

DENVER—The Denver Nuggets made easy work of the Minnesota Timberwolves, finishing off the series 4-1 by way of Tuesday’s 112-109 win.

In the matchup, the Nuggets proved not only that they’re whole with the healthy parts finally back surrounding Nikola Jokic but that they’ve cut the dead weight too. Nowhere was this more obvious in Game 5 than in Wolves seventh-man Austin Rivers, who played the role of sixth-man for Denver last year during the Nuggets’ 4-1 loss to the eventual champion Warriors.

Rivers was twice a negative double-digit performer in plus-minus during this 2023 playoff series, capping it with a game-worst -13 in the Wolves season-ending loss.

Playing Rivers’ role from last season for the Nuggets this year is Bruce Brown who was second in the Nuggets in plus-minus at plus-eight. Rivers found the basket just once, scoring two points while not seriously contributing on defense. Meanwhile Brown filled up the sheet, scoring 14, adding five rebounds, two helpers and a steal all the while playing an essential role in the Nuggets defense. Brown was even thrust into the closing lineup due to foul trouble where he guarded Minny’s star, Anthony Edwards.

What Rivers contributed in this series against what Brown did was night and day. And in truth, Rivers earned a spot after Jamal Murray went down with a knee injury and was a solid Nugget pushed into a tough spot. But thanks to health the Nuggets are in a lot better of a spot, and Rivers isn’t even one of the true dead weights from season’s past.

The Nuggets most-played player from a season ago in the Warriors series, Will Barton, got cut mid-season and then caught on with a team who missed the playoffs. Starting point guard Monte Morris had a rough year as his team missed the playoffs. Starting forward Jeff Green has been pushed to eighth-man on this year’s Nuggets squad. Then there’s JaMychal Green, who has played 11 minutes in this year’s postseason as a deep reserve for the Warriors and Bones Hyland, who missed nine shots as the Clippers season ended on Tuesday.

Denver was rounded out by DeMarcus Cousins, Bryn Forbes and Facundo Campazzo, who are all out of the NBA.

On top of the roster, there’s who was controlling the roster.

Tim Connelly’s first big move as boss of the Wolves was to acquire Rudy Gobert, who was flailing on the ground as Nikola Jokic sped the other way for an AND-1 finish to clinch the series.

In Connelly’s spot is protege Calvin Booth, who added Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun and more as he offed all those players who didn’t catch on elsewhere.

All of this is to say is the Nuggets won their first playoff series at home since 2019 and they’ve shaken the weight of their last two postseasons off their back.

Could it have been a sweep? Sure but look at the East’s No. 1, they’re on the ropes to Miami right now.

The Nuggets exercised a playoff demon and now we’ll finally get to see what Denver can do against the Suns with a healthy Murray, something Mile High Hoops fans have been years waiting for.

But this isn’t that Nuggets team, this is this Denver team. And it won’t be that Suns team, it’ll be one with Kevin Durant. Everything is different yet everything is the same. But don’t buy any of the false playoff Jokic narratives that came with his team hobbled and don’t buy analysis this next week based on guys who haven’t played for the Nuggets or even in the NBA for two years the last time these two matched up.

Murray stepped up and had great games against the Wolves, Michael Porter Jr. was huge, KCP’s defense was a big part of this only going five and Aaron Gordon has proven to be the X-factor. This is Jokic’s cast, it’s real and here again (finally.)

Everyone knew the Wolves were the tiny appetizer ahead of the big stuff. Denver polished them off and proved a few points. Now it’s time to put the saddle on and Pony Up because the next 19 days are going to be wild.

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