Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets had to withstand a late Minnesota rally to hold off the Timberwolves earlier this month, but they won't have their superstar for the rematch.
Perhaps more significantly, Minnesota might finally have some confidence.
Kevin Love and the Timberwolves seek a rare three-game winning streak Wednesday night when they look to stop a six-game home slide against the Nuggets, who will once again be without Anthony and Al Harrington.
Anthony hasn't played since a 115-113 win over Minnesota (8-24) on Dec. 18, missing Denver's last four games to be with his family following his sister's death.
Anthony, who is set to return to the Nuggets (17-13) on Thursday, finished with a team-high 24 points in that win and also made a critical block of a Love layup attempt late in the fourth quarter. Love still finished with a career-high 43 points and 17 rebounds, drawing plenty of praise from Denver's star.
"He attacked the offensive glass every time," Anthony said. "For some reason he always seemed to get his hands on the basketball. I can see why - when I look at the stat sheet on numerous nights, he has 20 and 20."
Love has five 20-20s this season, but he's put up more modest numbers recently. He's averaged 16.0 points and 14.5 rebounds in Minnesota's last two games, but they've won both - 98-97 at Cleveland on Sunday and 113-98 against visiting New Orleans on Monday.
A win Wednesday would give Minnesota just its second three-game winning streak since the start of last season. The victory over the Hornets was the Timberwolves' first over a team with a winning record.
"That's the type of team game overall, offensively and defensively, that we're really pushing our guys to get to," coach Kurt Rambis said.
While Love hasn't been explosive offensively since the Denver game, Michael Beasley has. Beasley, who was held to 17 points against the Nuggets, had 28 in the win over Cleveland and 30 against New Orleans.
The Timberwolves are 5-4 when Beasley scores at least 28 points and 2-19 when he's played and scored 27 or fewer.
Wes Johnson's contributions have helped, as well. The rookie had a season-high 24 on Monday, helping Minnesota improve to 6-6 when he scores 11 or more.
Denver, meanwhile, wasn't sure where it would get scoring Tuesday. But Chauncey Billups had 18 points while J.R. Smith and Nene chipped in 17 apiece in a 95-77 win over visiting Portland, snapping what was a three-game losing streak without Anthony.
With a 20-point lead heading into the fourth, coach George Karl was able to give the starters some much-needed rest.
Even more significant than a balanced scoring effort, though, was the Nuggets' defense. Denver had surrendered an average of 110.4 points in its last eight games before holding the Trail Blazers to 40.0 percent shooting and the lowest point total it's allowed this season.
"I thought they felt the urgency of the win, that we had to get a win," Karl said. "Defensively, we were sound and solid all night long. Without Melo, we couldn't have any letups like we've been having."
The Nuggets figure to turn to Billups again Wednesday with Anthony and Harrington out with a dislocated right thumb. He's averaged 23.1 points in his last seven games at Minnesota - four of which have come during Denver's six-game winning streak at the Target Center.