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The Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves were equally impressive in their opening-round series wins, and now the Western Conference's second and third seeds are set for a titanic battle, starting with Saturday's Game 1. The returning champs appear just as potent as last year, led by the indefatigable superstar duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, who combined to average over 51 points and 17 assists while dispatching the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

Meanwhile, the Wolves extinguished any doubts about their legitimacy after a breakout regular season, sweeping a star-laden Phoenix Suns squad whom many picked to win the series. Emerging 22-year-old star Anthony Edwards took center stage, averaging 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists per game while producing as many viral sound bytes as spectacular highlights.

The Wolves are the underdog against the Nuggets, but are receiving plenty of attention as a hot upset pick. SportsLine actually has the Timberwolves winning the series in 58% of simulations. Let's take a look at three reasons why Minnesota could beat the defending champs in the conference semifinals.

1. Familiarity

Not only are the Wolves and Nuggets division rivals who play four times during the regular season, but they also met in a five-game first-round matchup last postseason that led then-Nuggets guard Bruce Brown to call it the "toughest series" of their championship run. 

If last year was tough, this year is going to be a gauntlet for Denver. The Wolves have improved in every facet, finishing just one game back of the Nuggets during the regular season while leading the NBA in defensive efficiency by a wide margin. 

As if the number of times they've played each other over the past year hasn't bred enough familiarity, Minnesota head coach Chris Finch and assistant Michah Nori both spent time under Denver head coach Michael Malone, while Wolves president of basektball operations Tim Connelly helped build the current Nuggets roster before leaving for Minnesota two years ago. These teams know each other front and back, so there will be no adjustment period required.

"We see them four times a year. We saw them in the playoffs last year," Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said, via The Athletic. "We know what they like to do, and they know what we like to do. I think the series will be decided on who can do a better job of taking away the strengths of the other team."

Obviously familiarity alone doesn't lead to success against a team as great as the Nuggets. The Los Angeles Lakers, who played Denver last postseason, were just systematically eliminated in five games. But the confidence that the Wolves gained from last year's playoff series clearly has them eager to dethrone the champions this time around. With the intimidation factor out of the picture, it's going to come down to execution -- an area where the Wolves excelled in their opening-round sweep of Phoenix.

"Discipline has to be huge against this team," said Wolves guard Mike Conley. "That goes down to not fouling, to boxing out, like the little things between this game -- not getting back-door cut. Those things are things we can control, but they're really good at. They don't beat themselves. They're a team that's been there and done it and have a really high IQ as a whole. We have to try to minimize those mistakes."

2. Defending Jokic

Shall we state the obvious? Nobody is going to stop Nikola Jokic. Even prime Bill Russell would have been befuddled by the 7-foot, two-time MVP's unprecedented combination of scoring, playmaking and basketball IQ.

That being said, the Timberwolves are as equipped as any NBA team to contain Jokic, thanks to a trio of big men -- one of which is set to win his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award -- who can alternate pestering and prodding Denver's offensive hub. Minnesota will likely begin the series with Karl-Anthony Towns guarding Jokic, which will allow Rudy Gobert to sag off of Aaron Gordon and provide help. The Wolves used that strategy -- Towns on centers, Gobert on the opponent's least intimidating perimeter threat -- for much of the season, and the defensive results speak for themselves (109 points allowed per 100 possessions with both of them on the floor).

Towns only played in one of the matchups against Denver this season, back on Nov. 1, but he showed in that one game why the Wolves are confident in him defending Jokic. Because of his size, Towns can't be bullied underneath the basket, and he has shown the ability to hold his ground one-on-one. Watch here as Jokic attempts to post up and Towns stonewalls him, leading to a turnover:

Now notice here in the same game, as Gobert completely ignores Gordon on the perimeter and focuses his attention on helping against Jokic. Gobert's double-team makes Jokic kick the ball out, leading to a three-second violation.

The biggest issue for Towns, particularly in the playoffs, has been foul trouble, so it will be vital that he remains disciplined against Jokic. But if he's forced to the bench, Gobert has more than held his own against Jokic in the past, and Naz Reid -- while a bit on the slender side -- has length to at least bother him.

Minnesota's game plan has clearly been to limit Jamal Murray and the supporting cast in recent meetings -- Jokic averaged just four assists per game against the Wolves this season, compared to his usual average of nine. Their ability to do that will largely hinge on Towns, Gobert and Reid containing Jokic.

"It's fun. That's what you play for," Towns said of matching up with Jokic. "To be at the highest level of basketball, playing against the best of the best that this NBA has right now and may ever have, I just wake up every day very excited for the opportunity to go out there and earn my respect."

3. Edwards the closer

If you're going to beat the Nuggets, you need to win the crunch-time minutes -- the problem is, that's been a nearly impossible proposition over the last couple seasons. Denver led the NBA with a plus-24.5 net rating in clutch games (within five points with five minutes remaining) during the regular season, and had an unfathomable plus-41.4 rating in three clutch games against the Lakers in the first round.

Enter Anthony Edwards, who will be tasked with carrying a Timberwolves offense that ranked 22nd in the league during clutch games this season. Just as he did this summer with Team USA, it's clear that Edwards is taking another leap during the postseason in terms of his execution and confidence (who would have thought it could get any higher?). He's talking trash to NBA legends, making borderline obscene gestures during games, and -- most importantly -- backing it all up on the court.

Edwards has averaged the most fourth-quarter points of any NBA player this postseason, shooting 67% from the field in the final frame. He's been an absolute killer late, unafraid to take the game into his own hands with his elite, three-level attack. It's just a rare breed who can throw down a dunk like this in the fourth quarter:

And also bust out a step-back 3-pointer like this:

With the Nuggets' unrelenting crunch-time machine of Jokic and Murray, the Wolves need Edwards to be the answer on the other end if they're going to have a chance at an upset.

"He's amazing. He's really a dangerous player," Jokic said of Edwards. "He's a really talented player who can do everything -- who has everything, actually, in his arsenal. And he has the teammates to back it up. He's actually a really funny guy to be around. Hopefully we're gonna have some fun too."