2024 NBA Playoffs preview, prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets

This will be the best series of the second round.

Denver is the class of the West, the defending NBA champions led by the world’s best player, Nikola Jokic. Minnesota lacks cap experience but is the only other team left in the postseason that can match their size along the forward line. This promises to be a physical series.

A year ago, these two teams met in the first round, and while Denver won five games, Minnesota started to figure things out by the end, and the Nuggets later said it was perhaps their toughest playoff series. This season, the teams split their series 2-2.

This will be a tough second round series. Here are the details on the series — including three things to watch for — and a prediction at the end.

When does the Timberwolves vs. Nuggets game start?

The first game between the Timberwolves and Nuggets will take place on Saturday, May 4 at 7 ET in Denver, and the game will be broadcast on TNT.

Minnesota vs. Denver 2024 playoff schedule

All times are Eastern (* = if necessary).
Game 1: Timberwolves at Nuggets, May 4 (7 ET, TNT)
Game 2: Timberwolves at Nuggets, May 6 (10 ET, TNT)
Game 3: Nuggets at Timberwolves, May 10 (9:30 ET, ESPN)
Game 4: Nuggets at Timberwolves, May 12 (8 ET, TNT)
Game 5: Timberwolves at Nuggets, May 14 (TBD, TNT)*
Game 6: Nuggets at Timberwolves, May 16 (8:30 ET, ESPN)*
Game 7: Timberwolves vs. Nuggets, May 19 (TBD)*

Three things to watch for in Minnesota vs. Denver

1) Can the Timberwolves execute under pressure

There is a great chess match in his series. Are the Timberwolves putting Karl-Anthony Towns over Jokic and Rudy Gobert over Aaron Gordon and in a good position to help? Jaden McDaniels on Jamal Murray? On the other side of the court, how do the Timberwolves pull Jokic into a high pick-and-roll to try to wear him down? And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg.

These competitive challenges aren’t what makes Denver elite, it’s their other-worldly execution. The continuity of the same great players in the same system for years has given them an almost intuitive understanding of where other players will be on the field and when they might break in or out. Jokic’s departure is always a delicate one. It’s that ability to adapt on the fly, almost without words, that makes the Nuggets so difficult to defend.

Can Minnesota execute near this level? The question isn’t talent — the Timberwolves have that — but this team has struggled all season in the clutch. Minnesota has a -13.1 net rating in clutch minutes (the last five minutes of the game are within five points), while Denver leads the league with a +24.5 net rating.

This could be the difference in the series, can the Timberwolves perform at a level where they should not lose games in the final minutes?

2) Can Karl-Anthony Towns and others provide enough secondary points?

Anthony Edwards will get it. The rising star will be tested in these playoffs guarded by Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but he’s already reached the star point where you can count on him getting buckets.

Will he get enough support? Specifically, will Towns step up as the second scorer this team needs in this series, knocking down outside shots and spacing the floor to open up driving lanes? McDaniels had a 25-point streak last series, so can he have another solid outing or two? Can Gobert put buckets in the paint? Mike Conley and Gobert have a strong pick-and-roll chemistry that can lead to buckets.

Despite Minnesota’s tough defense, Denver will score. Jokic is a very good player, and the Jokic/Murray pick-and-roll is as good a two-man game as there is in the league. To have a chance in this series, the Timberwolves will need to get buckets consistently and someone other than Edwards will have to carry some of that load.

3) Can the Timberwolves control the fun minutes?

This item could have been “Is Jamal Murray’s calf healthy?” If the answer is no, that’s the biggest story of the series, but because he just played through a calf issue in Game 5 against the Lakers and then had five days off, we’ll assume he’s ready to play.

Which brings us to the not-so-fun moments. There aren’t many of them in the playoffs, but the Timberwolves need to control them. The Lakers didn’t do that, over the five games they were only averaging +8 in the minutes Jokic wasn’t playing, which simply wasn’t enough to create a gap.

To win this series, Minnesota needs to control Jokic’s minutes.

It would also help – and it would be good to see – their injured coach Chris Finch on the bench.

Prediction: Nuggets at 7

This will be soon. Denver doesn’t have the depth it had a season ago (they miss Bruce Brown), and Minnesota is improving game by game, especially in confidence. However, I have confidence in the Nuggets’ ability to perform better at the end of tough games. This series lasts six or seven games, but the defending champions are ahead.

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