Wolves' quest for home-court advantage hinges on Wednesday night's battle

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets
Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

As it stands, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets are tied for first place—each with 54 wins and 24 losses on the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder are a not-so-distance 53-25, in third place.

While the Thunder are still capable of earning the first seed, one of the Wolves or Nuggets will likely earn home-court advantage. Oklahoma City' remaining schedule is far more difficult than that of Minnesota and Denver.

The Thunder will finish the season playing every game at home. However, they'll take on the Sacramento Kings (fighting for a secure playoff spot), the San Antonio Spurs, the Milwaukee Bucks (on a four-game losing streak, needing to avoid the play-in), and the Dallas Mavericks (also aiming for a secure spot).

Minnesota's schedule is as follows: the Washington Wizards, Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, and Phoenix Suns. Denver's remaining four games are the Utah Jazz, Timberwolves, Spurs, and Grizzlies.

Three of the four final games for the Nuggets are essentially a given. Sans the Wolves, the remaining three squads combined record is 75-159. By Wednesday night, both squads *should* be 55-24 entering the third-to-last game of the season.

Home court advantage will come down to Wednesday's battle in Denver. After two contests in Minneapolis, the series will even itself out with a final affair in the Mile High City.

In the first battle, the Timberwolves won 110-89. The 21-point deficit was the Nuggets' fourth-worst of the season. In that game, Minnesota held Denver to sub-40 percent shooting from the floor and an abysmal 18.2 percent from downtown. The Wolves stymying defense forced 16 turnovers.

On offense, the Wolves displayed a well-rounded approach. The foursome of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Mike Conley Jr., and Naz Reid all scored 16 or more points. Additionally, Minnesota canned 26-of-27 freebies.

In the second battle, on March 19, the Nuggets overcome a vigorous second-half comeback to defeat the Wolves by the score of 115-112. Without both Towns and Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic dominated the shorthanded Timberwolves—scoring 35 points and knocking down 14-of-22 field goals.

Edwards and McDaniels combined for 56 points, but the lack of size ultimately doomed Minnesota. The Nuggets outrebounded the Wolves 49-37 which led to 19 second-chance points. Although the Wolves allowed the Nuggets to shoot nearly 52 percent, they did force 17 turnovers.

In the third and most recent matchup, the Wolves decided to trot out the 6-foot-9 Reid alongside Gobert to remedy their previous height problem. Minnesota controlled the first half and cruised the rest of the way. The Wolves ended up winning by 13, with the final score being 111-98.

Playing without star guard Jamal Murray, the Nuggets' lack of depth was exposed. Jokic mustered all he could as the MVP frontrunner accounted for nearly a third of Denver's points. Similar to the first matchup, Minnesota held Denver to poor shooting percentages.

This time around, Murray will be back in the fold. Instead of focusing on slowing Jokic, the Wolves will be tasked with shutting down two 20-plus point-per-game scorers. Still missing Towns, Reid's output must improve upon his past showing where he only scored seven points and went 2-of-12 from the field.

In the Wolves two victories, they've held the Nuggets to 93.5 points and sub-40 percent field goal percentages. Forcing another off-shooting night will be difficult, but it's needed to stall a highly efficient Nuggets offense.

The Wolves' x-factor is no other than McDaniels. In three games against Denver this season, he's averaged 16.3 points while shooting 67.9 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from beyond the arc. Aiding the scoring efforts of Edwards and Reid is a boon for Minnesota, especially with Towns continuing to nurse his knee injury.

If Minnesota pulls off the victory, the Wolves will improve to 56-24 while the Nuggets will drop to 55-25. All the Wolves would have to do is defeat the Hawks or Suns to secure home-court advantage. Winning with consistency in the NBA is never easy, but defeating the Nuggets offers Minnesota a clear path to the second first-overall seed in franchise history.