With the Timberwolves beating the champs, there’s a new favorite team in the NBA (for now)

DENVER – There’s no longer a need to wait your turn in today’s NBA, and no more of the pain a team must endure before reaching elite status.

Windows open and close faster than anyone expects, so if there’s an opportunity to take advantage of it, you’d better take it.

The Minnesota Timberwolves shook off their first-half nerves and lethargy and even 20 years of generational incompetence to not only solidify themselves as a strong championship contender but also take down the defending champion Denver Nuggets – at home in Game 7, coming back from a 20-point deficit to do so.

The Nuggets know the feeling, as they were chasing a championship last spring, shaking off curses and shaking off injuries to finally snatch the title from the NBA’s traditional powers.

That final feeling is the one the Timberwolves are hoping you’ll feel — and it’s also a feeling of exhaustion and frustration, the feeling that says like a champion you have to play 82 more games before starting the two-month journey in hopes of getting back… last Title.

The Wolves want him now, without all the devastating heartbreak that comes with the path to a championship.

“It’s the playoffs, we lost last year,” Karl-Anthony Towns said, referring to last year’s first-round loss to the Nuggets.

“We lost the last two years,” Anthony Edwards said, referring to his first-round loss to Memphis in 2022.

Towns continued: “How much more do we have to lose? We’ve been losing for 20 years!”

Maybe, not much more than that.

It was the acquisition of Rudy Gobert that started this turnaround, an ambitious gambit at the time. Gobert’s 9-1-1 jumper with the shot clock down was the karmic moment that let everyone know it was Minnie’s night.

For the sixth straight year, the NBA will not have a repeat champion, and for the first time in modern NBA history, the NBA’s Final Four will not have a current or former Most Valuable Player.

The Timberwolves came to Ball Arena winning for the third time in the series, advancing to the Western Conference Finals with a 98-90 victory Sunday night, the most unexpected finale ever in the series.

The Timberwolves will have home-field advantage against the Dallas Mavericks when the series ends Wednesday night.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards gestures as time runs out in the second half of Game 7 of their NBA second-round series against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Denver.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves took down the defending champions. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

It was all there, the blazing look on Nuggets coach Michael Malone’s face, the fatigue dripping from his voice as if he’d played 48 minutes and suddenly couldn’t make a shot.

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It was all there, the jubilation in the room behind him as he spoke in his press conference – it was almost raw. Because it was the Timberwolves’ locker room, which definitely gave all the screaming and hollering the moment it deserved.

After being scathing at first, Malone composed himself. The Timberwolves were built to take on the Nuggets themselves, and although history says a team should struggle a little more before taking over, in today’s league takeovers don’t last long.

“I’m not one to make excuses,” Malone said. “The better team is the one that won.” “We played in June of last year, a lot of basketball. We had to play key players through Game 82 to secure the No. 2 seed. While on a run last season, coming back mentally, emotionally and physically, our guys were gassed. They gave me everything they could “I ask for it.”

Champions are accustomed to making fun of rivals. From the Magic to Isiah to Michael, to Shaq and Kobe, to Steph and KD, it’s become a habit to repeat. If you win one, set your watch to go back there, at the same time next year in June.

Now, June doesn’t belong to anyone. You can borrow June, but when the lease is up, you’ll suddenly be fired — even if you have the best player in the world in Nikola Jokic, even if you have the best non-star player in Jamal Murray.

“A lot has been placed on their shoulders,” Malone said. “We expect Nicola and Jamal to continue to pull rabbits out of hats, and someone has to give them some help. We’ve just struggled to make shots. They’re a really good defense.”

The duo carried the Nuggets as much as they could, especially Murray on his injured calf. As Murray walked off the field, all was right with the world in the first half. He and Jokic combined for 69 Nuggets points, but couldn’t find help anywhere else. Jokic scored 34 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, but it didn’t feel like a special game for Jokic.

And now he must stew.

But despite a thrilling comeback by the Timberwolves, who held the champions to 37 points in the second half while outscoring them, looking them in the eye and outrunning them, it wasn’t a case of either team choking or failing.

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It was about the two best teams in basketball engaging in a dogfight for two weeks, then putting on a classic seventh game that brought them all the emotions, fears and doubts they’re supposed to.

The halftime message from the Timberwolves locker room was simple.

“Calm down,” Mike Conley said.

The 15-point deficit in the first half was the largest ever overcome in Game 7 history. And the history of this series is that a comeback was not possible, with all the blowouts. But this is a different NBA, this Minnesota team is different, and somewhere along the way, they came to a realization that seemed obvious a week ago.

They are the better team, if they can handle the moments.

Then the moments came, in waves.

Edwards, on a 6-for-24 night, cruised into the open floor, guarding Murray, hitting and cajoling, like an annoying little brother, until he snatched the ball away and got layups and dunks.

Then Karl-Anthony Towns, who guarded Jokic wonderfully and played good enough offense to keep the Wolves within striking distance — going all out and not doing too much at the same time — using his size to get to the basket.

Malone knew he couldn’t let Edwards explode for 40 balls, so he loaded up and dared Towns to beat them.

Next thing, you look up and suddenly the game goes from 58-38 at the 10:50 mark to nine minutes later when the Timberwolves go on a 21-3 run that has everyone’s palms sweaty and their cheeks tight.

You have to play the percentages, both on the floor and on the balance sheet.

That’s what makes sustainability in today’s NBA so difficult, because you can’t really add to the core of the championship while rewarding those players who brought you your ring. The Nuggets played only six players heavy minutes, with Christian Brown playing 19 minutes off the bench.

Teams typically add vets on the back end, willing to take on smaller roles in hopes of a title shot, but in this brave new world of luxury tax thresholds, the mechanics of finding a seventh or eighth guy — or keeping the ones you have — feel impossible.

Malone vows the Nuggets will be back, and they are expected to come back. Tim Duncan’s Spurs were never quite the same, and suffered some devastating losses along the way, and even some embarrassing ones, but they came back for more — and it’s worth noting that Malone considers that five-championship stretch from 1999 to 2014 a dynasty.

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“You come out of training camp all the way through and then all of a sudden it stops,” Malone said. “And it hurts. So use that feeling of motivation to come back a better player. We won it last year. The teams in the West have regrouped and retooled.” How will we beat the heroes? “And the teams have improved.”

Bruce Brown, a key member of last year’s running back, is elsewhere, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will receive a pay raise after this season if he opts out.

These two are grinders, and the Wolves have taken on that identity — especially Jaden McDaniels (23 points) and Edwards, who marveled at going 2-for-10 from 3 in a way only he can. But when the Wolves came roaring back, one of those threes sealed the third quarter and made it a one-point game.

The latter, after stealing from Conley in the open court, turned out the lights at Ball Arena by giving his team a 10-point lead with 3:07 left in the game.

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But there was Edwards, praising Towns next to him on the podium.

“He made all the right plays tonight. He only shot 14 shots, and he was always very efficient,” Edwards said. “He carried us tonight, and every time we needed a bucket he was there for us. “He made the right play time and time again.”

Edwards is the undisputed leader, even if he’s not the experienced vet — in fact, one of the reasons Gobert was brought to Minnesota was because Towns was more of an offensive player on the other end.

Despite Edwards’ place in the hierarchy, Towns has worn the loss more than anyone to wear a Timberwolves jersey.

“I definitely had a moment,” Towns said. “I’ve waited nine years. I talked about wanting to win, to do something special for this organization and about all the failures and the things that didn’t happen, and the disappointment that comes with them. Even just in this moment, I celebrate the victories. I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen it all. “

“(Expletive) nine years,” Edwards said.

Maybe that could have been said in the locker room at halftime, and after the game.

The Wolves have ditched the old label and now wear a new one: as the favourite, but not for long.

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