Nuggets, Wolves meet in a Round 2 matchup pitting team builder Tim Connelly's twin masterpieces


DENVER — When Michael Porter Jr. watches the Minnesota Timberwolves, he sees a reflection of the Denver Nuggets from a year ago.

Talent-laden. Unselfish. Agressive.

“Just a team that believes they have all the pieces to do something special,” Porter said Friday. “They haven’t done it yet. You definitely see just the way they’re playing, just the hunger. So, we’re really excited to play them.”

Porter didn’t hesitate to connect the dots to Tim Connelly, the master team-builder who assembled Denver’s championship roster before bolting to Minneapolis two years ago and quickly assembling a roster designed to unseat his previous masterpiece.

“It’s pretty amazing, Tim Connelly, what he did here and what he’s done over there,” Porter said. “I’ll always be grateful to him. And it’s cool to see he’s gone over there and built another championship-caliber team.”

One that promises to give the reigning NBA champs all they can handle starting Saturday night in Denver.

The Nuggets are fresh off a five-game thumping of the Los Angeles Lakers that sent LeBron James to his earliest playoff exit ever and prompted coach Darvin Ham’s firing Friday.

The Wolves reached Round 2 for the first time in 20 years after dispatching the Phoenix Suns with the first sweep in franchise history — against a team that had swept them in the regular season.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone scoffed at the notion the Wolves flipped a playoff switch.

“They had the best record in the West most of the year. They have two All-Stars. They have the Sixth Man of the Year. They have a Defensive Player of the Year finalist. They have a Coach of the Year finalist. They have a guy who scored 50 points in the All-Star game,” Malone said.

“They’ve been great all season long.”

It looked like these two teams would finish 1-2 in the West but both stumbled on the final weekend and the Oklahoma City Thunder leapfrogged them to get the No. 1 seed with Denver second and Minnesota third. So, this matchup comes a round sooner than many figured.

“Do it the Minnesota way, take the toughest path to get a championship,” Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We’ve played a tremendous, explosive, highly offensive team in Phoenix who is really good and has had our number all year, and we found a way to win. Now in this second round we’ve got to go against guys that are playing at an extremely high level, an extremely disciplined level that they just showed against the Lakers.”

The Nuggets only outscored the Lakers by a total of 11 points in Round 1, but they came through in the clutch with four comebacks, three from double digits, and Jamal Murray hit a pair of game-winning buckets in the closing seconds of Games 2 and 5 at home.

“They have the championship pedigree,” Towns said. “So, they’ve shown their discipline. They’ve shown their ability to win close games, especially recently. So we have to be willing to play for 48 minutes at a high level, extremely disciplined basketball.”

Just because the Timberwolves have a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner at center in Rudy Gobert — who has been well on his way this season to winning a fourth — doesn’t mean the 7-foot-1 Frenchman is their best bet for defending two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who’s favored to win his third.

“I see the game not in a direct matchup way, but more in a global matchup way,” Gobert said. “So, just want to try to make him work.”

The Timberwolves prefer to put Gobert in a roaming role in the lane where he can alter shots at the rim, so the bulk of the work on Jokic – albeit a team effort – will likely fall to Towns.

“It’s awesome getting a chance to compete against the best, and especially guys who have been some of the best offensive players we’ve ever seen,” said Towns, who spent plenty of time defending Kevin Durant in Round 1.

The Wolves hope to have head coach Chris Finch in a second row on the bench following his knee surgery. Finch had his ruptured right patellar tendon repaired after a sideline collision with Mike Conley last week. Assistant coach Micah Nori has taken over in Finch’s absence. Finch would likely join the team in the locker room for pregame and halftime meetings and watch the action in a suite if there’s not enough space for him on the sideline to safely extend his leg.

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA



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