The Denver Nuggets made a strategic decision to not only bench most of their starters but not even have them board a plane for Minnesota this weekend.
It ended as expected, with the Timberwolves rolling to a 30-point win on Sunday night.
Now it’s Minnesota’s turn to be the visitor and it’s likely Denver will have its top players in the lineup when the teams meet Tuesday night.
This will be the fourth and final meeting between the Northwest Division rivals, with the Timberwolves winning both games at home and losing on the road three weeks ago.
Minnesota didn’t have to deal with Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic on Sunday, but at least three of those four will be back in action. Caldwell-Pope suffered a sprained ankle in a win over Atlanta on Saturday night and his status for Tuesday has not been updated.
The Nuggets’ decision to play short-handed Sunday night was based on caution and scheduling. The game at Minnesota tipped off just 22 hours after the start of Saturday night’s game against the Hawks, and players are dealing with bumps and bruises.
Murray (left knee management), Jokic (left hamstring tightness) and Gordon (ankle) could have played if it was a playoff game, but Denver deemed it unnecessary for an early February matchup.
One player was available and in uniform for the Nuggets but didn’t get off the bench on Sunday night. Bones Hyland, the backup point guard, played just five minutes against New Orleans on Jan. 31 and has sat each of the last three games. The NBA trade deadline is Thursday and Denver may be holding him out while working out a possible deal for the second-year player.
“It’s a real sensitive area for everyone involved,” coach Michael Malone said. “… Just trying to give him some space, but also let him know, ‘Yes, this is a business, but we also care about you.’ … I put myself in his situation, and it’s not easy.”
Minnesota has been without one of its stars, Karl-Anthony Towns, since late December due to a calf injury and he won’t play Tuesday. The Timberwolves could also be without Kyle Anderson, who has left the last two games with back spasms. Guard Austin Rivers will miss Tuesday while he serves a three-game suspension for his role in an on-court altercation with Orlando on Friday night.
Despite the injuries and absences, Minnesota is currently seventh in the crowded Western Conference and sits just two games out of the No. 3 spot. Guard D’Angelo Russell has helped keep the Timberwolves competitive but his name has been floated in trade rumors ahead of Thursday’s deadline.
Minnesota did get a boost from the return of Jordan McLaughlin, who had missed 30 games with a left calf strain before playing Sunday night. He had two points and three assists in 12 minutes, but his impact reached beyond the stat sheet.
“J-Mac always gets the game going, always makes the game fun,” teammate Jaylen Nowell said in his postgame, on-court television interview. “Gets everybody involved and it was great to have him back.”
–Field Level Media