To begin the 2023 NBA playoffs, the Denver Nuggets showed that they truly are a class above the rest, dispatching of the Minnesota Timberwolves with ease in Game 1. Now, can they do it again and protect homecourt? Here we will be making a few predictions for Game 2 of the Western Conference 1-8 matchup.
The Nuggets would have garnered more fanfare as a championship favorite had they ended the season on the right note. Alas, the Nuggets did their best lottery team impersonation for stretches to end the 2022-23 campaign, as they suffered uncharacteristic losses, most notably to the Houston Rockets.
However, in Game 1, the Nuggets dominated the Timberwolves in all facets of the game. Clearly fatigued from their experience in the play-in tournament, the Timberwolves came out flat, losing steam in the second half as a result. Credit goes to the Nuggets for taking advantage though, as they shot the ball better, moved the ball with more purpose, and dominated the glass in what was such a one-sided affair that ended in a 29-point victory.
Nevertheless, the Nuggets of all teams know that one game doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of a series. After all, it's the same Nuggets core that experienced the enthralling high of coming back from two separate 3-1 deficits in a single playoff run. So they know that it's not over until the fat lady sings.
Thus, the Nuggets will be determined to keep their momentum rolling as they look to book their slot in the next round of the playoffs as they watch the other Western Conference teams beat up on each other.
Here are three bold predictions for how the Nuggets would perform in Game 2 of their first-round matchup against the Timberwolves.
*Watch NBA games LIVE with fuboTV (click for a free trial)*
3. Christian Braun plays the second-most minutes off the Nuggets bench
One concern pundits have regarding the Nuggets is their lack of depth. Trading away Bones Hyland may have been the right move for the sake of locker room harmony, but giving up on Hyland not even two seasons into his career gutted the Nuggets' depth even further. Hyland's replacement, buyout acquisition Reggie Jackson, has not been on point. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have sent Thomas Bryant to the shadow realm after disappointing in his role as Nikola Jokic backup since his move to Denver.
Only three bench players played serious minutes in the Nuggets' Game 1 rout of the Timberwolves — Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and Christian Braun. While there is certainly a debate to be had as to whether it's in the Nuggets' best interest to go eight-deep this early in the playoffs, at the moment, it's clear that head coach Michael Malone only trusts those three to contribute meaningfully.
With that said, Braun — the rookie out of Kansas — will make his case to play more playoff minutes with a solid 3 and D performance.
Even as a rookie, Christian Braun's ability to defend the perimeter has stood out. And with the Nuggets in need of more contributors off the pine, Malone will do what he can to empower the 22-year old guard, beginning in Game 2.
2. Nuggets hold Timberwolves to less than 30+% shooting from deep
In today's NBA, winning the three-point battle goes a long way towards giving the team the edge in winning the game. It is a numbers game after all, and a three-pointer is worth 150 percent of a regular bucket. And Game 1 was a testament to this, as the Nuggets drained five more triples than the Timberwolves and made their attempts from beyond the arc at a 41 percent clip. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves shot just 30.6 percent from deep.
Throughout the season, limiting their opponents' output from three has been a focus of the Nuggets' defensive system. The Nuggets allowed the third-least amount of three-pointers this past season, and they allowed the third-worst percentage on those shots.
The Nuggets are definitely built to contain the three-point game; thus, expect the Timberwolves to have to struggle from deep yet again like they did in Game 1.
1. Nuggets win in blowout fashion yet again
As much upset talk there is regarding the Nuggets and Timberwolves' matchup, it became apparent in Game 1 that the Timberwolves face a steep, uphill climb to win a game against the 1-seed, let alone win four.
Losing Jaden McDaniels made defending the perimeter an even more difficult task, and with Nikola Jokic leading a humming Nuggets offense, the Timberwolves simply may not have enough offensive juice outside of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards to keep up.
While it's never a smart idea to pencil in a team for a 20+ point blowout win, the Nuggets could be in for yet another rout as the Timberwolves' uneven 22-23 season fizzles out slowly into the ether.