By Chris Barnewall
DENVER (CBS SPORTS)– The Nuggets and Timberwolves both won on Monday. This was great for both teams because it kept their playoff hopes alive for at least one more game. However, that one final game is against each other.
Minnesota was never in danger of losing to the Grizzlies, but Denver was in a fight with the Trail Blazers to the very end. The game was within three points for almost the entire fourth quarter and multiple times looked like it was going to swing the other way. Nobody could seem to hit open shots and Damian Lillard had a rare moment where his clutch-time heroics weren’t enough.
The Nuggets got everything they could get out of Nikola Jokic and then some. He finished with 15 points, 20 rebounds, and 11 assists. This was enough to push Denver to its sixth straight win.
What their victory also set up was one of sports’ most exciting scenarios. The Nuggets and Timberwolves will have a play-in game on Wednesday at Target Center. Their entire season comes down to Game 82 and the winner gets a spot in the playoffs. The loser heads home. It’s amazing that it even reached this point.
The Nuggets’ season looked dead in the water at the start of April. They were 41-35, sitting in 10th place, and Gary Harris was injured. The Bucks were about to give them a devastating loss. Then Jamal Murray happened.
Murray’s steal to force overtime gave the Nuggets life. They won that game and pushed on to now win six in a row. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, have been in a tailspin since February.
The Wolves were comfortably in control of their own destiny, but this is what happens when you can’t close out a season. An injury to Jimmy Butler, a horrible loss to the Grizzlies in March, and a botched game against the Nuggets all cost them. They’ve gone from playoff lock to one game deciding it all so quickly. They’re .500 since the All-Star break.
All of this has led to a rare play-in game. Perhaps both the Wolves and Nuggets are playoff-worthy, but the West was always going to be wild. The postseason — and the pressure and stakes that come with it — will not officially start until Saturday, but League Pass subscribers are about to get a free preview.