With one more night remaining in the 2017-2018 NBA regular season, there remain several important loose ends untied. Teams will battle it out for playoff positioning, and, somewhat incredibly, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets will meet by sheer luck for the final spot in the Western Conference.
This is the game everyone is talking about. A play-in game for a spot in the NBA Playoffs. Both teams have a 46-35 record and can be expected to be somewhat disappointed to be in this spot, tough conference competition aside. The Timberwolves entered the season with sky-high expectations after the additions of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague partnered with celebrated head coach Tom Thibodeau and young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Many expected the up-and-coming Wolves to take a jump defensively with defensive wiz Thibs at the helm, but they have instead been near the bottom of the league in stopping teams from scoring, 27th in Defensive rating according to Basketball-Reference, a disappointment given all the talent they have and Thibs reputation. Instead, the Wolves have won on Offense, relying on their talented core to get buckets. When leading scorer Butler went down in late February with a right meniscus injury, it was incumbent on Towns and the others to pick up the slack and keep the team afloat until his return a couple games ago, which they were able to do reasonably well.
The Nuggets have needed a six-game winning streak to get to the point they are at today. Like the Wolves, the Nuggets are a team that struggles on defense but are loaded with offensive talent. They have six players who average double digits in scoring and a seventh in Trey Lyles who averages 9.9 PPG. There is so much evenly spread talent on this team that it is hard to pick the best player, though Nikola Jokic, who has built upon a break out 2017 season to become the leagues best passing big man, Paul Millsap, who signed in free agency over the summer, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are all strong contenders.
If the Nuggets do go on to win tonight, their first round match-up with the Houston Rockets will be something of a showcase for this overlooked team about whom most of the country does not know.
The Nuggets and Timberwolves will face off tonight at 8 Eastern Time. The game can be found on NBA League Pass.