NUGGETS

Nuggets get smoked in huge game against the Wolves

Mar 29, 2024, 9:28 PM | Updated: 10:13 pm

DENVER—The Denver Nuggets will have to be satisfied with the No. 3 seed in the West, after getting beat down by the Minnesota Timberwolves 111-98 at Ball Arena on Friday. Both the Wolves and the Thunder passed the Nuggets in the standings, with Oklahoma City beating the Suns. Denver is now a half-game behind each with just eight games left in the season, making it very unlikely the team ends up in second, let alone first.

The Nuggets were without Jamal Murray again, even with it being a big matchup, hinting that the point guard’s injury might be a bigger deal than previously thought. And without Murray, Denver is a different team, now losers of two-straight games, dropping their post-break record to 15-4.

Michael Malone said Murray came up to him to apologize for not playing after the game. Malone didn’t accept it, knowing Murray isn’t wanting to be injured.

The matchup with Minny was huge for the standings because it also clinched the T-Wolves the tiebreaker, meaning the Nuggets who have one more loss than the Twin Cities crew, will have to outplay them straight up down the stretch. Denver does get the T-Wolves one more time before the season ends. And even if the Nuggets can’t snag first place, second place would be huge given it’s home court for the first two rounds—that too will be tough since OKC also holds the tiebreaker against the Nuggets.

While the standings are meaningful, the game itself wasn’t. Any game without Murray shouldn’t scare too much about how it could look in the playoffs, assuming the Blue Arrow is back. Denver is simply a different beast when he plays—Denver is 40-14 with Murray and 11-9 without. And the Nuggets did take care of a lesser and injured T-Wolves team in the playoffs last season in just five games.

The game itself on Friday? Wolves stud defender Jaden McDaniels got them going on offense and he ended with 17 points on 10 shots, Mike Conley turned back the clock for 23 points and eight assists while their star Anthony Edwards only had 25 points on 19 shots. It should be noted Rudy Gobert played after missing four recent games but Karl-Anthony Towns is still injured. Reggie Jackson had it rough in spell of Murray, going for 12 points on 15 shots with 10 assists and three turnovers while Nikola Jokic had 32 points and the bench more-or-less snoozed.

Meanwhile, Jokic has been on the injury report as of late and Malone said afterward he was surprised the MVP actually went to battle. He has been battling, back, hip and wrist issues.

“That first half, we deserved to be booed of the court to be perfectly honest,” Malone said. “Let’s start with me, that’s on me for getting guys ready to play, knowing what’s at stake.”

So long as Murray is actually going to be healthy come postseason time, this is a repeat of last season’s ending when the team tanked it for health the last 10 games. The difference this spring is that the Nuggets have not locked up the No. 1 seed—meaning their full-on coast is really going to put Malone’s health over seeding theory to the test.

“This is not last year. We do not have a cushion,” Malone said. “We’re in a dogfight. Jamal being out is not ideal, but we’ve got to get him healthy.”

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