After 82 games it comes down to one game, terminally putting to bed the erroneous but sounds-nice analysis that the regular season doesn’t matter. On April, 11th it matters. Denver will roll into Minnesota and face the Wolves. The Wolves haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004. The Nuggets haven’t been to the playoffs since 2013. Both are desperate to break their playoff losing streaks. One of them will be on vacation come Thursday.
The Wolves have All-Star(s) in Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler. They have a former Rookie of the Year in Andrew Wiggins. They have a former MVP in Derrick Rose. The deck is stacked high in their favor.
The Nuggets are a bunch of kids supported by Paul Millsap and pushed into relevance by Nikola Jokic, their best player and the most underrated player in the NBA. To get to this finale, Jokic had a triple double while the Wolves breezed through a tanking Grizzlies team.
The 8th seed doesn’t really matter much. Someone is going to get rolled by James Harden. There’s a NBA truism that fits here. If you’re not a contender or a lottery team, you are wasting your time. The NBA middle class is the worst place to be because it’s hard to get better. You linger in purgatory. But here is the exception. Both rosters are filled with young players. The Nuggets have (7) players on the roster 25 years old or younger. The Timberwolves have (5) such players. All need playoff experience. Both organizations are desperate to be in the playoffs. It signifies progress.
The safe money is on the home team Timberwolves but can you really trust a team that was supposed to be a 4 seed but collapsed when their best player was out. No one took over, stepped up as a Jimmy Butler 1A. Additionally, the Wolves just lost to Denver last week. The Wolves defense is the second worst in the league. They take the fewest threes out of anybody so if they get down there is no quick comeback via shotmaking. They don’t block shots, move the ball, or defensive rebound. There’s a reason they have to wait for the last game of the season to figure out their playoff maze, despite having an All-Star in Towns and Jimmy Butler.
The Nuggets have their own issues. They don’t have a true point guard, a player who can control tempo, get shots and not turn the ball over. They are trying to make Jamal Murray into a point guard. That Murray averages 3 assists lets you know how he is handling the make everyone better part of the job. The Nuggets are the worst defensive team in the league so you have matched up against one another, the defensively godawful (30th) vs the defensively atrocious (29th) in the Nuggets and Wolves. However, the Nuggets share the ball, play the team game more than the Wolves do who love iso basketball. That usually wins in a one game elimination. That and who can drain their threes. The Nuggets are better at modern basketball so I give them the edge.
As far as who can give the Rockets their best challenge? The Wolves lost all four games to the Rockets giving up 122 points. The Nuggets lost all three games to the Rockets giving up 124 points. It’s going to be a sweep. As it should be. Both teams needing the last day of the season to get into the playoffs means they are mediocre.
The best thing about this game is the best thing about the NCAA tournament. You will see who thrives under pressure and who is soft. The NBA is ecstatic. Outside of Minneapolis and Denver, no one much cares which one of these teams are the lamb to the Mike D’Antoni slaughter next week. But for a league that authors as much drama as a human can stand, it is one last bit of hero/villain before the real season starts.
The last time a game 82 had intrigue was two years ago when the Warriors won their 73rd game and Kobe played the last game of his career and both things happened simultaenously, 400 miles apart. Both of those were interesting enough events but didn’t deliver heartbreak. There was a lot of applause, shock and awe to go around.
But on Wednesday night someone is going to be elated. And a bunch of someones will be in tears.