The Minnesota Timberwolves mean business and they reminded the rest of the NBA about it with a statement win over the Denver Nuggets at the Ball Arena.

In a battle between two of the three teams contending for the top seed in the West, Minnesota banked on their defense, as they have all season long, to take a 111-98 win against the reigning champions. They did not look back after building a double digit lead early in the second quarter and entered halftime with an imposing 19-point advantage.

The Timberwolves extended their lead to a high of 26 in the third period as Anthony Edwards scored 10 of his team-high 25 points over the quarter, though the Nuggets did fight back late in the game. Denver managed to trim Minnesota’s lead to a low of 11 with less than two minutes left to play before Edwards and Mike Conley hit a series of free throws to put the game away.

The 36-year-old Conley was instrumental in the win as he wound up with 23 points on just 12 shots along with three rebounds and eight assists. The calming presence of the veteran guard has been a major reason for this team’s success this season and he will have to keep this up if they are to make a deep run come the playoffs.

On the other end of the floor, the length of the Timberwolves’ frontline clearly bothered the Nuggets as they were limited to just 39.8% field goal shooting, well below their season average of 49.4%.

Rudy Gobert led the team on defense with 12 rebounds and three blocks to go with his 21 points. The three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year hit seven-of-eight field goals, but only converted seven-of-15 free throw attempts. Come the postseason, Gobert’s poor free throw shooting may continue to haunt him and is likely to be exploited by opponents in a seven-game series.

Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid, and Kyle Anderson also played a crucial role for Minnesota in support of Gobert on defense. Their cumulative length is quite imposing and was a major reason for Nikola Jokic’s off-night. The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player led the Nuggets in scoring with 32 points, but shot an uncharacteristic 11-of-24 from the field.

This match marked just the eighth time this season that Denver, who came into the contest averaging 114.4 points per game, scored less than 100 points. Aside from this latest encounter, the Timberwolves also pulled off this feat in their first meeting last November when they took a dominant 110-89 win.

While Denver did lack their lead guard Jamal Murray who was out due to knee inflammation, Minnesota’s line-up was incomplete too as their four-time NBA All-Star forward Karl-Anthony Towns remained sidelined with a torn meniscus.

The win was especially crucial for the Timberwolves as it allowed them to regain the lead in the Western Conference standings with a 51-22 record. Denver fell to 51-23 on the season which puts them in third place at the moment behind the Minnesota and Oklahoma City Thunder in this heated battle for the top seed. Furthermore, the Timberwolves now lead their season series against the Nuggets, 2-1, with one more regular season game remaining in the second week of April.

This season has been nothing short of a dream for Minnesota and wins like this have only emphasized that this team is a legitimate contender. The Timberwolves gave Denver a run for their money in the first round of last year’s playoffs and it looks like they can push them even further if they do meet once again this postseason.