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Strong third quarter carries Nuggets past Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Denver Nuggets have made a habit so far this season of starting slow and having to battle back in the second half of games. That trend continued Thursday against Minnesota.

Nov 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles the ball around Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles the ball around Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - The Denver Nuggets have made a habit so far this season of starting slow and having to battle back in the second half of games. That trend continued Thursday against Minnesota.

Luckily for the Nuggets, an impressive third quarter was enough to erase a big first-half deficit.

Danilo Gallinari scored 19 points and Jusuf Nurkic added 18 for Denver (2-2) as the Nuggets escaped with a 102-99 win over the Timberwolves (1-3).

Denver turned a six-point halftime deficit into a 13-point lead after three quarters. The Nuggets trailed by 15 at one point in the first half, which looked all too familiar to head coach Michael Malone.

"We have to find a way to start games as we're starting the third quarters," "Because over an 82-game season - even just a five-game road trip - you can't continue to do that, because it's a very bad habit. We have to try and break it as soon as possible."

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A big night from the bench helped the Nuggets fend off a young Minnesota squad. Denver got 45 combined points from its reserves, including 19 from Wilson Chandler. Veteran guard Jameer Nelson added 14 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.

Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with a double-double, scoring 32 points and adding 14 rebounds. Andrew Wiggins scored 25, but it wasn't enough for the Timberwolves, who two days earlier beat Memphis by 36.

After losing each of its last two games by three points or less, Denver was able to finish on the right side of a close finish.

"I thought we did a better job this game of handling the adversity a little better," said Nelson, who had seven assists and seven rebounds.

Trailing by six at halftime, Denver outscored Minnesota 33-14 in the third quarter. Nurkic and Gallinari both had nine points in the third as the Nuggets shot 61.1 percent from the floor in the quarter.

Denver outshot Minnesota and made one more field goal than the Timberwolves in the first half, but Minnesota shot 7-of-8 from 3-point range to take a 61-55 halftime lead. That included two 3-pointers each from Wiggins, Towns and guard Zach LaVine.

Minnesota clawed back in the fourth quarter after letting its lead slip away. Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica kept his team in the game with 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. Wiggins hit a jumper to cut Denver's lead to 99-96 with 3:25 remaining, and a Towns free throw brought Minnesota within two.

That was as close as the Wolves would get down the stretch. A three-point play by Emmanuel Mudiay put the Nuggets back up by five.

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Minnesota had a pair of open looks at a game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute but couldn't connect. After the Wolves got the ball back with four seconds left and trailing by three, Bjelica's 3-point shot at the buzzer rolled out.

In all four games, Minnesota has led by 15 or more at one point. That was the case Thursday as the Wolves jumped out to a big first-half lead.

But like its first two games, Minnesota squandered that lead. That included a bad third quarter Saturday against Sacramento, much like what the Wolves endured Thursday.

"I think the mindset has to be to re-establish who we are in the first five minutes of the third quarter," said Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau. "That's where I think we're off right now, and that's something that we need to correct."

Denver went ahead midway through the third quarter and led by eight after a 9-0 run, capped by a Gallinari 3-pointer in the corner. That effectively erased Minnesota's 15-point lead, and the Nuggets controlled the action the rest of the way.

"We got relaxed. We can't do that," said Towns. "We can't be undisciplined in our games and we can't be undisciplined with the lead."

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