Timberwolves feel Karl-Anthony Towns’ absence as Nuggets flex championship muscle

Karl-Anthony Towns’ absence loomed large as Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards react to the Timberwolves’ loss to Nuggets.

Karl-Anthony Towns off to right, Nikola Jokic off to left. Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert center both saying “we need KAT”

Wednesday night featured the biggest game of the 2023-24 NBA regular season between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets. The two campaigns of these squads led up to one singular night. Two teams boasting 55-24 records duking it out in a game with huge playoff implications. The winner would control their destiny as the one-seed in the Western Conference. The Timberwolves were looking to reach heights the franchise has not seen for two decades. The Denver Nuggets were searching to run the table for the second straight year.

Minnesota’s collection of size and length presented challenges to Denver and Nikola Jokic that no other team in the league can. Prior to their final meeting of the season on Wednesday night, Minnesota had held Jokic to just a combined ten assists, while also forcing him into 12 turnovers, over their first three matchups. Completely atypical performances for the Joker.

Coming into their final regular season matchup, Denver was fully healthy, while the Timberwolves were still without All-Star big man Karl-Anthony Towns who is nearing his return. Despite a strong 14-5 record this season without KAT coming into Wednesday night, his absence against the Nuggets was felt at Ball Arena, as the Nuggets made a statement with their 116-107 win over the Timberwolves.

Nuggets leave an impression on the Timberwolves

Denver Nuggets forward Peyton Watson (8) prepares to dunk ball in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Ball Arena.
Despite the Timberwolves coming out to play, Denver showcased their championship pedigree in this one. After weathering a strong early start from the T-Wolves, the Nuggets rolled into halftime within striking distance, as they trailed by only three points. And in the process, Denver was able to keep Minnesota right where they wanted them.

The Nuggets turned the tide in the second half and took a narrow lead into the fourth quarter as Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray, and company aided Jokic in the scoring endeavors. The final frame was winning time. Despite downplaying the importance of the game before the matchup, it was clear Jokic and the Nuggets had no plans on letting this game get away from them.

Their slow, methodical, unguardable style of play outlasted Minnesota’s offense, which at times can be a bit erratic. The reliability in Denver’s shot generation heavily outweighed Minnesota’s in the final 12 minutes. Then, disaster struck for the Timberwolves. Some poorly timed shots and costly turnovers changed the meaning of altitude in the Mile High City.

The Nuggets, primarily Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, played above the rim for what felt like an eternity. Highlight dunk after highlight dunk, turned a tight, competitive game into a blowout in the span of a few minutes. Minnesota pulled the plug on their starters for the night as the game got out of hand. Denver, however, did not do so immediately. Leaving their starters in, the Nuggets sent a message to the Timberwolves, and that was a message of their superiority that will surely stick with them.

The Karl-Anthony Towns factor

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) reacts to his three-point basket against the LA Clippers during the first half at Target Center.

Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
When asked postgame about the value Towns will provide for this team once he’s back on the floor, both Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert got real about the All-Star’s importance. Gobert emphasized clearing the glass as a huge area in which Towns can contribute.

“I think he helps a lot. They really hurt us on the glass, and it’s a team effort. Even if I’m doing my best boxing out, sometimes the cutting in the back or they’re getting some of those boards that really hurt us today. And also on the free-throw line too. I think having KAT, who is a really good rebounder and has a lot of size would’ve really helped.”

Edwards highlighted the scoring punch and extra size provided by the talented seven-footer.

“I mean, it would be a lot easier for everyone because he’s gonna get 25 points every night. Like, easy. He walks in the gym with 25 points. So it makes it a lot easier for everybody. And another big body. Another 7-footer. Another shooter.”

On Wednesday night, Minnesota’s five starters combined for 79 points in the loss. The bench, however, contributed just 28 points, with 13 of those coming after Chris Finch cleared his bench out. An important aspect to remember in KAT’s upcoming return to the lineup is the shuffling of Naz Reid back to the bench unit.

Reid has been tremendous playing with the starters and has played a big role in helping Minnesota stay afloat during Towns’ injury. However, his role coming off the bench might be even more valuable in a potential playoff series against Denver. Reid is another big man who can eat minutes to not only help the Wolves in case of foul trouble, but also allow all three of Minnesota’s unique big men to stay fresh.

The bench’s inability to score will be solved a bit with Reid returning to his sixth man role while Towns provides another big body to throw at the Joker. Towns’ pending return is obviously critical, and should these two teams meet up in the postseason, expect Minnesota to look like a much different one that got run off the court on Wednesday night.


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