Jokic cautious with ‘dangerous’ Wolves team

Dangerous is the word Nuggets star Nikola Jokic used several times Friday when talking about the Timberwolves.

Minnesota and the Nuggets will face off in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, with Game 1 on Saturday night in Denver. The highly anticipated matchup is a rematch of last year’s first round match between the teams, a matchup that the Nuggets won three games to one.

The two teams faced each other four times in the regular season, with each team claiming a win at home and on the road. These games don’t provide much context for what’s to come in the week(s) ahead.

“I mean this year I don’t think anyone was healthy. They were at one time I think,” Jokic said of the regular season series. “It was us or them, someone dropped out. It’s the first time we get the healthy group of guys in both directions. So we’ll see.”

The only time each team had its full complement of starters was the first game of the series, in November with a 110-89 Timberwolves win. Now, six months later, both parties appear to have their full complement of stars. Nuggets star guard Jamal Murray is listed as questionable due to a left calf strain but will likely play.

As for what makes the Wolves so tough to play, Jokic mentions former Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly.

“I think they’re built really well,” Jokic said. “I think Tim Connelly, when he made that (Gobert) trade, everyone laughed at him… But he made a great team. I think he deserves credit for that.”

“Of course the coaching staff makes everything work and I think they are a very dangerous team,” Jokic continued. “They can have an answer for anything: play small, play big, they can do it all. They are a very dangerous team. Hopefully we can do something in the next four-plus games.”

Minnesota is coming off a four-game sweep of the Suns as they gear up for their first second-round series in two decades. Denver defeated the Lakers in a five-game series and now looks to face the team they believed was their toughest opponent in last year’s battle for an NBA title.

“I think every game is different,” Jokic said when discussing what Denver can take from their first-round win over Los Angeles. “Minnesota is No. 1 on defense. They’re really, really aggressive on defense. That’s the No. 1 key that we have to figure out. Of course, they have so many offensive threats and they use every player on offense. So it’s going to be a challenge .Hopefully we have answers for them.”

The Nuggets will be tasked with shutting down Wolves rising star Anthony Edwards. The young guard was electric in Phoenix’s first round, averaging 31.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists while shooting 51% from the field.

“He’s great. He’s really dangerous,” Jokic said of Edwards. “He’s a very talented player who can do everything, who has everything in his arsenal. He has the teammates that support him. He’s actually a very fun guy to be around. Hopefully we’ll have some fun too.”

In Minnesota’s opening round, they showed their signature defense by holding the Suns to 103.3 points per game, while Phoenix’s 10th-ranked offense averaged 116.2 points per game in the regular season. Phoenix has only been held under 100 points five times this season, and the Wolves have held them under that mark twice in the first round.

“We can’t turn the ball over, that’s the biggest thing,” Jokic said when discussing the keys to overcoming the best defense in the league. “We have to have a shot every possession. We can’t fuel the (fast) break. I think that’s probably going to be the biggest key in the series because they are so dangerous in possession. Maybe they don’t run much, but they are so dangerous, they can look easy in transition. They’re really talented. Everyone runs the floor and everyone can make shots.”

Tipoff for Game 1 of the second round is scheduled for 6:00 PM CT in Denver.