Edit by: Blake Kemple (BucketsBlak3)
It all comes down to this as game 82 in the Denver Nuggets season decides whether or not the team is headed back to the postseason for the first time in four years.
The Denver Nuggets goal coming into this season was inevitable, it was for the team to make it back to the postseason. The Nuggets have certainly improved as they already have six more victories then they did last season, but even with the improved record it still may not be enough. 47 wins is the magic number too clinch a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and the Nuggets currently sit at 46. It’s only fitting that the game in which the Nuggets can clinch a playoff spot is on the road. Of the seven teams who have already cinched a playoff berth in the West, all have road records better then the Nuggets who are just 15-25 away from the Pepsi Center.
Luckily for the Nuggets, the team has found success on the road lately as the team has won each of their last two road games. The Nuggets last road game came last Saturday when the team absolutely dominated and eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers from playoff contention. If the Nuggets are able to build on their last two road games, it may put them in position to pick up the franchises biggest road victory in the last four seasons.
The easiest part of Wednesdays game for the Nuggets is that all the pressure almost seemingly falls on the Timberwolves. Minnesota went all in this season when they acquired Jimmy Butler last offseason in a trade where they sent their first round draft pick and two promising young players in Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn to the Bulls. The trade has paid off for the T-Wolves as Butler has continued his strong play in Minnesota, but it’s definitely a playoff or bust season for the Timberwolves. The Nuggets have faced the T-Wolves one time in Minnesota this season as the Nuggets lost a heartbreaker 128-125. The game went into overtime as the Nuggets fought back from a 19 point deficit, but Butler proved to be to much as he finished the night with 39 points and shot a solid 16-18 from the free-throw line.
The two teams squared off just last week at the Pepsi Center as the Nuggets beat the T-Wolves 100-96. Minnesota was without Butler for that game, who will be back for Wednesday nights game. After missing 17 games with a knee injury, Butler has retuned for the T-Wolves last two games and has had back-to-back games of 15+ points. The most eye popping part of Butler’s return is that his aggressiveness is still there as he’s gone a solid 13-19 from the free-throw stripe in his two games back. The shot isn’t quite falling yet, but the free-throws are what allowed Butler to be so successful in his last matchup against the Nuggets. If the Nuggets want to walk away Wednesday night with a victory, they’ll have to find a way to slow down Butler or at least keep him off the free-throw line.
Torrey Craig could be the guy the Nuggets call upon to stop Butler from tormenting the Nuggets on the offensive end of the floor. Wilson Chandler is also an option to shut down Butler, as Craig may not be in line for as many minutes with the return of Gary Harris. After missing 11 games with a knee injury of his own, Harris returned for the Nuggets game against the Blazers scoring 12 points in his 18 minutes off the bench. It was reported that Harris asked to come off the bench in order too allow Will Barton to continue and flourish in the Nuggets starting lineup.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone on @Altitude950 says Gary Harris asked to come off the bench last night when he returned from an 11-game absence so Will Barton can continue to start at shooting guard.
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) April 10, 2018
Barton has been great in Harris’ absence and has really gave the Nuggets a huge boost when they’ve needed it most. Barton has been a ginormous part of the Nuggets six game winning streak and has scored 22+ points in three of the teams last four games. The Nuggets will need another big game on Wednesday night from Barton, as the team will have all hands on deck in the biggest game of the season.
The biggest matchup of the night will come in the post as two stars will square off, Karl-Anthony Towns for the T-Wolves, and Nikola Jokic for the Denver Nuggets. In the two teams matchup last week, Towns finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but fouled out late to ultimately seal the Nuggets victory. Jokic finished that game 16 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists, but shot just 6-20 from the field. Towns has been on fire as of late and could be the x-factor for the T-Wolves, which means Jokic will have to step up and try to equal if not better Town’s performance. As long as Jokic is able to keep pace with Towns and the Nuggets can slow down Butler, then the Nuggets should have a strong chance of coming out on top when the clock hits double zeros.
Stay tuned too Dig In Denver and find out if the Nuggets are heading back to the playoffs.