The last week or so has almost felt like a mini-offseason. The Wolves haven't played a game since last Friday, where we saw the Wolves fall their 2nd game in a row and 3rd of the last 4. Five or so days of rest, practice and rehab time later, the Wolves remain at home to face an underachieving-to-date Denver squad. Some bullets:
-Injury Report. The good news is that the Wolves may actually be able to almost field a full roster for tonight's game. 11 whole players! Call it something of a Thanksgiving miracle. Nikola Pekovic is set to return and JJ Barea is likely and also eager to give it a go after suffering yet another very painful paper cut. Pek will be an enormous boost for this team, and may actually make the game winnable. While Greg Stiemsma has been generally fantastic off the bench this year, he was nothing short of atrocious as a starting center going against the first teams. Greg was murdered on the glass, and generally looked highly overwhelmed playing in a role that is anything other than a sparkplug bench energy guy. Not to be overly harsh on the guy here, he is a sound bench center playing 10-15 minutes a game where he is less of a liability, and easily replaceable with other bigs should he be having a rough night. Greg back in said role, being replaced by our current go-to scorer is a welcome adjustment indeed. Other than that, Budinger, Roy, Rubio and Love are all out of course.
-Inside Battle. Speaking of Pek's return, it was basically mandatory for any chance of victory tonight. The Wolves were absolutely destroyed the other day on rebounds (50 to 34 to be exact) and 2nd chance points against Golden State and, despite another encouraging and ferocious 4th quarter rally, again fell short. Denver has a solid trio of bigs that will present themselves as formidable foes: Kenneth "Fried Nugget" Faried, Kosta "Toucan Sam" Koufos, and JaVale "Lloyd Christmas" McGee. If Golden State's successful game plan is any indication, George Karl is pining those three to crash the offensive glass as much as possible and create problems for the Wolves. If Denver is to emerge victorious tonight, it will probably be by virtue of inside play given the somewhat shaky starts offensively for their perimeter players. This is also how Denver won in Memphis. Get will soon, K-Love. It's been 5 weeks!
-Depth Perception. Thus far in the season, and before the injury bug really hit, the Wolves have won games with their depth, getting contributions from the bench and manhandling the opposition's 2nd units. Denver presents a challenge here because, while the team lacks a go-to "star" player, just about every rotation player on the roster is potentially a starting caliber NBA player. Denver's bench features a primary rotation of Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, and JaVale McGee, in addition to a stacked starting 5 full of producers (including former Wolf Kosta Koufos). These 3 will go up against Shved, Barea, Cunningham, Howard and Stiemsma who all expect to see significant minutes. Keep a keen eye on the game flow when the 2nd unit steps out onto the floor, as Barea and Pek's returns make things easier on everyone. And most importantly, we likely have your first Shved vs. Brewer matchup of the year! And of course Anthony Randolph returns, however given he has only played five total minutes this season, his appearance in a game is unlikely ("but he still has SO MUCH POTENTIAL!" :eyeroll").
-Prediction: The return of Pek and Barea make this game interesting. The Wolves have played surprisingly well against the Nuggets at times and even won a game against them shorthanded last March (although we can pretend Love wasn't playing in that game and his 30-20 had nothing to do with it). Given the Nuggets lack a star, it will all come down to consistency yet again. Despite the fact that Denver is coming off of a road win against the 8-2 Memphis Grizzlies, and in honor of the holiday, I'm taking the homer route and predicting the well-rested Wolves pull off the upset against this sub-.500 division rival at home.
Have a great holiday.