The Denver Nuggets are gunning for nothing less than a second consecutive NBA championship and their most recent win not only helped tilt the odds in their favor, but also sent a stern message to one of their top rivals.

In a battle between the West’s top two teams, Denver and the Minnesota Timberwolves both entered the match with identical 55-24 records which set the stage for a playoff-like atmosphere at the Ball Arena.

With the regular season down to its last few days, this game was practically a playoff for first place in the West which also meant guaranteed home court advantage through the first three rounds of the postseason. The two teams were well aware of the situation, with the Timberwolves’ star Anthony Edwards recognizing the importance of the match-up while reigning NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets did the opposite and downplayed it prior to the contest.


Minnesota’s urgency seemed to pay off as they led for most of the first three quarters of the game, yet when Denver finally decided to flip the switch, there was no stopping the reigning NBA champions.

The Timberwolves led by five points, 79-74, after a three-point play by Edwards with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter. The Nuggets, led by Jokic, responded with a 9-1 run to close the period before blowing the game wide open in the fourth.

Denver slowly crept away at first, using their defense to build a 95-87 edge by the midway point of the fourth quarter. Sophomore guard Christian Braun then unleashed a flurry of emphatic  dunks–three to be exact–that put the game away for good.

His fellow reserve Peyton Watson also joined in on the fray as he blocked Naz Reid’s three-pointer–his sixth and final one of the evening–and capped off the play with an electric dunk of his own. Watson’s sequence gave the Nuggets their largest lead of the contest, 110-94, with 2:45 left on the game clock and essentially put an end to the match. Minnesota’s head coach Chris Finch responded to the play with a timeout which he used to pull out his starters for good.

Denver’s championship experience was on full display all throughout as they calmly remained within striking distance before going on their game-changing run in the second half. Jokic continued to build on his case to win a third NBA Most Valuable Player trophy as he led the Nuggets with 41 points on 16-of-20 field goal shooting, two three-pointers, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

Jamal Murray added 20 points, four three-pointers, four rebounds, and six assists, while Michael Porter Jr. chipped in with 18 points and eight rebounds.

Braun finished with a modest statline of eight points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block, yet the energy that he provided, particularly with his crucial dunks, was invaluable to the team. Meanwhile, Watson’s six swats were a career-high and he now has 13 blocks over Denver’s last three games. He also recorded four points, four rebounds, and four assists in only 23 minutes to complete another fine all-around showing.

With two games remaining on the regular season schedule of each of the three teams–the Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Oklahoma City Thunder–in contention to finish first in the West, Denver’s last two games are against a pair of lottery-bound teams in the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies. A pair of wins, as expected, would simplify this race and allow them to enter the playoffs as the West’s first place team.

On the other hand, their rivals have much more challenging opponents lined up for them over these next few days. The Timberwolves will have to play the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns while the Thunder have the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks remaining on their schedule.

First seed or not though, these Nuggets are clearly peaking at the right time. Their 20-5 record since the All-Star break is the best in the entire league and their roster is now finally fully healthy with the return of Jamal Murray earlier this week.

If Denver’s starters can continue to perform at their typical levels and reserves such as Braun, Watson, and Reggie Jackson can continue to provide energy, this team is practically impossible to stop. The Nuggets should like their odds at achieving back-to-back titles, but the Timberwolves, Thunder, and the rest of the Western Conference are not going to go down without a fight which sets the stage for another exciting postseason.