Wolves attempt to contain Nikola Jokic as Nuggets visit

When the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Rudy Gobert from Utah this offseason, it looked like he might be the final piece they needed to become a contender.

But with a new calendar year upon it, Minnesota is far from the top and searching for answers.

The Timberwolves have lost six in a row, the last a demoralizing home loss to the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night, and now face the top team in the Western Conference when the Denver Nuggets come to Minneapolis on Monday night.

Minnesota is five games under .500 and sits 11th in the Western Conference. Center Karl-Anthony Towns has not played since Nov. 28 due to a right calf strain but should be returning shortly, but he won’t play against Denver, which makes the task of defending two-time MVP Nikola Jokic that much tougher.

Minnesota is 6-10 since Towns went out with the injury.

Gobert has faced Jokic many times when he was with the Jazz, and Monday should be another challenge for him.

While that is a concern, the bigger issue for Minnesota is getting out of their downward spiral. After the 116-104 loss to Detroit, the Timberwolves held a players-only meeting to try to find solutions.

“We’ve got two options; we can sit back and feel sorry for ourselves or we can just look ahead and understand that it’s still a long season and we’ve got a lot of time left if we keep that mindset of just keep getting better,” Gobert told The Athletic after the meeting.

Monday’s game is the first of four between the teams, and all the games are going to occur in a span of six weeks.

One advantage for Minnesota is the fact that the Nuggets played Sunday night against Boston to wrap up a stretch of five games in eight nights, but they’re coming in with momentum. Denver beat the Celtics, who have the best record in the NBA, 123-111.

“We can come out and handle business,” said Aaron Gordon, who had 18 points and seven assists in Sunday’s win. “It’s not about the other team, it’s about the standard we hold ourselves to.”

One player who could be rested for Monday’s game is guard Jamal Murray. Murray sat out Sunday’s game as part of management for his surgically-repaired left knee, a strategy the Nuggets have used this year as he works his way back to full health.

Other than Murray and Jeff Green, who is out with a fractured right hand, Denver is playing with a stacked roster and has been getting better defensively over the last three weeks. The Nuggets are 10-2 since dropping three straight at the beginning of December, and coach Michael Malone said one key is defense.

“Within that stretch we probably rank 10th (in the NBA) in defensive efficiency,” he said after Sunday’s win. “There is no secret between the correlation between defense and winning. I can talk about pace but defense wins.”

It helps having a unique player like Jokic, who notched his ninth triple-double of the season after putting up 30 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists against the Celtics.

–Field Level Media