DENVER — — The Minnesota Timberwolves are still fine-tuning their playoff credentials and Karl-Anthony Towns gave a preview Friday night of the kind of challenge they would present in the playoffs.
Towns scored 32 points and the Timberwolves overcame Nikola Jokic’s 38-point, 19-rebound performance in a 136-130 win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
D’Angelo Russell added 24 points and Anthony Edwards scored half of his 18 points on a 3-point clutch trio in the final minutes to help Wolves fend off Denver’s comeback, snapping a two-game skid and stopping the Nuggets’ three-pointers. the game drives up the rankings.
“I think we’ve shown many times that we’re a playoff team and I think we’ve also shown that we’re no joke,” Towns said. “It’s the real Holyfield deal. Tonight was just another night with all the chips on the table – and for both teams. They even played their MVP 44 minutes.
“I think both teams showed that we all want to win this game and we both understood the magnitude of this game and its importance. We just came out and found a way to win at home.
Aaron Gordon scored 24, including one reverse alley-oop dunk, and Monte Morris had 23 for Denver. But what did in the Nuggets was the 36 free throws they allowed and the 30 points they gave up on 18 turnovers.
“We had some stupid turnovers,” said Jokic, who finished two assists from a triple-double.
The Timberwolves (44-34) are still a long way from shots to avoid a play-in scenario but they gave themselves a shot by taking three of four in the season series with Denver (46-32), which lost a half game behind Utah in the Northwest Division.
Taurean Prince sank a pair of free throws with 19.8 seconds left after the Nuggets, who trailed to 15, shot 133-130 on Will Barton’s 3-pointer, and Edwards added a free throw for top the score.
The Timberwolves took a 70-65 lead into the locker room after Edwards blocked Morris, who rounded his open teammates in both corners to take him to the hoop against two defenders, and Prince scored at the other end .
Ahead of the whistleblower, Nuggets coach Michael Malone was candid about how his team retired games in which they performed poorly.
They weren’t so lucky against Wolves.
CIRCLES OF HOPE
The Nuggets have been without stars Jamal Murray (ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (back surgery) for most of the season, but Malone insisted the team hadn’t ruled out Murray’s return in the last straight line.
Asked what he would say to fans who are pining for Murray, who hasn’t played since suffering the injury on April 12, Malone replied: “Hold on to hope.”
“We are not closing Jamal Murray. It’s not a black and white issue,” Malone said. “We’re not running a race with a definite finish line. Who knows what the season will look like after these (last) four games? Are we going to be in the playoffs? Are we going to be playoffs-in? Who knows? It is to be determined.
“Jamal is improving day by day. Believe me, we all want him back. I want him to come back. We are a better team with Jamal Murray. And he wants to come back. He is making great progress. But I can’t sit here and say he’s going to play in one of the last four games. But I also can’t say that he won’t.
While Morris said Murray looked set to return, Jokic said he warned his star point guard not to rush.
“I told him, ‘If you’re not 100% ready, don’t come back. It’s stupid,” Jokic recounted. “‘You risk (injuring yourself again) if you’re not 100% ready, especially in the playoffs.'”
What about Porter, who seemed to be ahead of Murray in his rehab until a recent setback in his recovery from back surgery?
“Uh, no comment,” Malone said.
Timberwolves: G Malik Beasley returned after missing two games with an ankle injury. … Minnesota was 20 of 22 from the free throw line in the first half. … The Timberwolves hit 12 of their first 16 shots. … Towns (6 for 6) and Russell (4 for 4) were perfect on the field in the first quarter and each also had two free throws in the first quarter.
Nuggets: F JaMychal Green returned to action after missing two games with a wrist injury. …Jeff Green ran down the tunnel and out of the arena early in the third quarter because of a personal issue. … Jokic didn’t take his first rebound until 3:09 into the first quarter. … DeMarcus Cousins picked up four fouls and a technical in just 2 minutes, 6 seconds spanning the first and second quarters.
Timberwolves: Complete their road schedule in Houston on Sunday night before finishing with three home games.
Nuggets: Visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon before finishing with three home games.