Losing the first contest of a seven-game series isn’t tragic for the road team. The lower seed needs to win just one road game to grab home-court advantage, and there are four chances to get that win.
However, if the Minnesota Timberwolves play like they did in Game 1 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series against Denver, the Nuggets will have no trouble advancing.
Denver started fast and finished strong in a 109-80 win on Sunday night, and will try to take a 2-0 series lead Wednesday night at home.
The Nuggets are the top seed while Minnesota is No. 8 in the West, but this was considered a relatively even matchup. The teams split the four games in the regular season and Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t play in any of those meetings.
Towns was back for Game 1, but it made little difference. Part of Minnesota’s poor effort could be attributed to having to play two play-in games to get the eighth seed and having just one day off before Game 1.
Conversely, Denver had six days off to prepare and let bumps and bruises heal.
“We had a long, tough week,” Wolves forward Kyle Anderson said. “That’s no excuse. We came out expecting to win the game. We just have to get some rest, watch film, adjust and get ready for Game 2.”
The two days off between Games 1 and 2 may be the cure for the Timberwolves’ poor shooting Sunday night. They shot 37 percent overall, hit just 30.6 percent of their 3-pointers and missed seven of their 16 foul shots.
Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert is listed as questionable as he again is dealing with a back injury.
Denver looked nothing like the team that went 2-5 to end the regular season. The Nuggets had a comfortable lead for the top seed and opted to rest many players down the stretch. Nikola Jokic played just two of the final seven games due to calf tightness and other starters were in and out of the lineup to rest for the postseason.
At least for one game the strategy paid off. Denver had six players score in double figures on Sunday and Jokic, a triple-double threat every night, had a pedestrian 13 points and 14 rebounds but controlled the pace on the offensive end. He is bothered by a wrist injury and is listed as questionable for Game 2.
The encouraging sign for the Nuggets was Jamal Murray’s 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in his first playoff game since the 2020 bubble in Orlando. He showed no ill-effects of his sore thumb or worries about his surgically-repaired left ACL that he tore two years ago.
He admitted he was pressing early in Game 1 but led Denver’s dominant second half that sealed the game.
“I got tired quick,” he said. “I’m best when I’m feeling myself.”
The task for the Nuggets is to not get comfortable with a blowout win. Anderson pointed out that he was on a San Antonio team that beat Oklahoma City by 32 in the first game of their 2016 series before the Thunder ended up winning in six games.
Denver coach Michael Malone told his team to “exceed” Minnesota’s desperation in Game 2, he shared Tuesday.
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