Edwards confident in Wolves: ‘We’re a great team’

Sports

DENVER — Anthony Edwards and Naz Reid had a shooting competition after practice Saturday, a day ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets to determine the winner of their second-round series against the defending NBA champions.

The Wolves’ budding superstar and the league’s Sixth Man of the Year started in one corner and had to make five 3-pointers from seven spots around the perimeter, seeing who the first would be to finish from the opposite corner. In the shoot-until-you-miss format, Edwards quickly made it to the opposite corner while Reid got stuck on the third of seven spots.

Edwards started shooting high-arching shots, launching the ball almost to the ceiling of the Nuggets’ practice court, to allow Reid a chance to catch up. When Reid finally caught a rhythm and made his way around the 3-point line, just two spots from the end corner, Edwards stopped messing around, locked back into his regular shooting stroke and calmly ended the competition.

In a way, it mirrored what the Wolves are trying to do to Denver this series. Minnesota went up 2-0 to start, lost three in a row to fall down 3-2, then obliterated the Nuggets by 45 points in Game 6 on Thursday to set up Sunday’s clincher.

And Edwards is looking at the Nuggets with the same self-assuredness he had Saturday when he shot a smile at Reid before making the final corner 3 to win their competition.

“I think we’re confident just because we’re a great team,” Edwards said. “We’re going against another great team and we feel like we’re the better team. That’s all the confidence that we need. The two previous games [that the Wolves won in Denver] don’t mean anything. They beat our ass on our home court, so that don’t mean anything. Right now it’s about who is going to play better tomorrow.”

The Wolves played their best in Game 6, holding the Nuggets to a franchise playoff-low 70 points on just 30.2% shooting (19.4% from 3). Edwards was the game’s leading scorer with 27 points, but he was hardly the only Minnesota contributor.

Jaden McDaniels had 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting while Mike Conley had 13 points and 5 assists while returning from a sore right Achilles that caused him to miss Game 5. Karl-Anthony Towns had 10 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists while playing effective defense against three-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Rudy Gobert (8 points, 14 rebounds) and Reid (10 points and 11 rebounds off the bench) both made their mark as well.

Conley, 36, is in his 17th season and has gone 0-4 in Game 7 in his career. The most recent loss was to these same Nuggets while Conley was with the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2020 playoffs in the NBA Bubble. Trailing 80-78 as the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter, Conley received an outlet pass near center court and attempted a potentially game-winning pull-up 3 from the left wing as time expired.

It rimmed out and the Nuggets advanced.

“I’ve replayed it a lot [in his mind],” Conley said Saturday. “Having that opportunity to win a Game 7 like that and not be able to make the shot was tough. Now here we are in a similar situation, where we get to play the same team, a lot of the same guys. So for me, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.”

Now on his third team with more than a full season’s worth of postseason games under his belt — Sunday will mark his 88th — Conley knows that he might not have too many more bites at the apple.

“He mentioned before the playoffs that this might be one of his best and last chances to have a chance like this and winning the ring or going deep in the playoffs,” Towns said of Conley. “We all have tremendous respect for him. We would love to be at our best, especially tomorrow, and continue this journey of potentially getting him a ring. I think all of us can agree that we’d do anything for Mike Conley.”

The 22-year-old Edwards has never played in a Game 7 before. The West semis are just the fourth playoff series of his four-year career thus far.

While he’s also heaped praise on the Wolves’ veteran point guard as the playoffs have progressed — going so far as to say that Conley’s presence was the difference in Minnesota winning Game 6 after losing Game 5 without him — Edwards has his own motivation for Sunday.

Just like he wanted to finish off Reid in the shooting competition after practice, he wants to defeat Denver.

“I want to win it for myself,” Edwards said, matter of factly, when asked if he wanted to win Game 7 for Conley. “I wasn’t with Mike whenever he was in Game 7s, so that has nothing to do with me.

“Yeah, I want to win it for myself.”

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