There was a significant discrepancy in talent, scrap and performance between the Nuggets and Timberwolves last night. It’s just one game in a potential seven game series, but based on what happened in Denver late Sunday night and the season long reputation of the two teams it appears this playoff matchup could end soon.
Denver, the No. 1 seed in the NBA Western Conference, encountered little resistance from No. 8 seed Minnesota in winning 109-80. The Nuggets, led by two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, finished with a regular season record of 53-29. The Wolves, who prompt a lot of head scratching to figure out their team MVP, were 42-40.
The Wolves look like a team that has regressed from a year ago when they opened the playoffs by defeating a solid Grizzlies team in Memphis after finishing the regular season with a 46-36 record. The 2023 team looks dysfunctional too much of the time including in last night’s game that saw the Wolves out scored 32-14 in the third quarter after trailing 55-44 at halftime.
Even at the intermission the Wolves were drawing criticism from TNT analyst Charles Barkley. Targeting the Wolves’ Twin Towers of 7-foot Karl-Anthony Towns and 7-1 Rudy Gobert, Barkley said “Minnesota’s biggest problem” is the combo isn’t effective enough on offense to justify playing them together.
Gobert, acquired in a controversial trade last summer with the Jazz, scored eight points, while Towns, picking up some late points in the meaningless fourth quarter, had 11. And it wasn’t just scoring where the Wolves’ bigs were lacking. In plus-minus stats that measure a player’s contribution on the floor, Gobert was a team-high -28 while Towns was -11.
The Wolves used 13 players last night and Wendell Moore Jr., who played for two minutes, was the only individual with a plus rating (two).
Denver coach Mike Malone wanted his team to be more aggressive and disciplined than the Wolves for the playoff opener. Combine those elements with better talent, the result is what happened last night.
Because of national TV scheduling the game had an absurd start time of 10:51 p.m. Eastern, 9:51 Central. The next game is Wednesday (also in Denver) with a scheduled tipoff at about 9 p.m. Central.
Walker Kessler, among five players and multiple draft choices the Timberwolves gave up in the trade to obtain Gobert, is one of three finalists for NBA Rookie of the Year. The 7-foot Jazz center averaged 9.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in his first professional season.
Only three other NBA players bettered Kessler’s 2.3 blocks per game. The other finalists for Rookie of the Year are Paolo Banchero of the Magic and Jalen Williams of the Thunder.
Former Wolves star Jimmy Butler, now with the Heat, is a finalist, along with De’Aaron Fox of the Kings and DeMar DeRozan of the Bulls, for NBA Clutch Player of the Year.
The Wild-Stars playoff series opens tonight in Dallas with possibly seven games needed to decide the winner. The two teams played a combined 55 overtime games during the regular season. Both franchises have recent histories of scoring droughts in the playoffs. The Wild hasn’t advanced out of the first round since 2015.
The Wild was 7-2-3 when star scorer Kirill Kaprizov was injured and unable to play late in the season. Minnesota had balanced scoring during that stretch and must continue that with forwards Matt Boldy, Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello needed to step up on the playoffs.
The Stars franchise, known as the Minnesota North Stars until relocating to Dallas in 1993, might never have moved if the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission had funded a major renovation of Met Center in the late 1980s.
The Frozen Four championship game April 8 on ESPN 2 between the Gophers and Quinnipiac averaged 808,000 viewers, a 100 percent increase over the 2022 title game, per Front Office Sports.
St. Paul native Bill Robertson, commissioner of the USHL, said there were 80 alums of his league playing in the Frozen Four that also included Boston University and Michigan. Twenty-three of those players were from the state of Michigan and 22 from Minnesota.
Since 2017 the Twins are 4-18 at Yankee Stadium in regular season games. That record includes wins Thursday and Friday that ended up giving Minnesota a series split over the weekend.
Minnesota’s Sonny Gray, 2-0 with a gaudy 0.53 ERA, will start Tuesday night in Boston when the Twins open a three-game series against the Red Sox. The Twins’ starting staff, all of whom were acquired from other teams, has been leading MLB in multiple statistical categories including ERA and batting average against.
Happy 90th Birthday today to former Gophers’ head basketball coach Jim Dutcher. Articulate and sharp as ever, Dutcher has always been a great family man and travelled to Houston this spring to watch son Brian’s San Diego State men’s team finish second in the Final Four.
Joe Salem, who was the Gophers’ head football coach when Jim Dutcher’s 1982 team won the Big Ten title, will be 85 on May 1. He told Sports Headliners via email his health is “okay,” but wife Sue has dementia and is in memory care in Sioux Falls. He spends much of his time following football and literally has a family coaching tree.
Sons Tim (a former Gopher quarterback) and Brad coach tight ends at Pittsburgh and Memphis State respectively. Both programs won their most recent bowl games. Brad’s son Eli is a reserve quarterback at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the team won the Division III national championship Stagg Bowl last year. Jeremiah is a freshman quarterback at Eastern Michigan, 2022 winners of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“The family was 4-0 in bowl games last fall,” Joe Salem wrote. “Not bad.”
Son Wade sells motivational programs to school athletic teams while son Brent, a former college football coach, is an insurance executive in the Twin Cities.
The Capital Club’s next breakfast program at Mendakota Country Club is April 27. Charles Adams III, head coach of the North Community High School Polars football team and a recently retired Minneapolis police officer, will help lead an “important conversation about life, death, humanity and how sports can bring people and communities together,” according to an email from club organizer Patrick Klinger. Former Gopher football star Darrell Thompson, president of the Bolder Options mentoring program, will be the program moderator. More information about the Capital Club is available from Klinger, email@example.com