Wolves go to playoffs, Nuggets go home

AP PHOTO

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, left, tries to keep control of the ball as he is fouled by Denver Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee on Wednesday in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves beat the Nuggets in overtime to claim the final NBA Western Conference playoff spot, and eliminate Denver.

By Dave Campbell Ap Sports Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — The toughness that Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and the rest of the veterans brought to the Minnesota Timberwolves this season was on display from start to finish.

Finally, after a 14-year absence, the long-languishing franchise is back in the playoffs.

Fittingly, it took until the last game and then some to get there.

Butler scored 31 points, Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 14 rebounds, and the Timberwolves outlasted the Denver Nuggets 112-106 in overtime Wednesday night in the first final-day play-in game in the NBA in 21 years.

No team in the league had gone longer without a postseason appearance than the Timberwolves, who took Towns with the first overall pick in the 2015 draft and traded for Butler last summer to put themselves in position to return.

The Nuggets won six in a row to force this elimination game, including a 100-96 decision in Denver last week that was the last time the Wolves (47-35) played without Butler, and went 23-12 over their previous 35 contests.

Nikola Jokic locked in a classic big man battled with Towns, finishing with 35 points and 10 rebounds, but he missed six of his last eight shots after the third quarter as the valiant finish to this season fell just short. The Nuggets (46-36) haven't made the playoffs in five years.

Now it's the Timberwolves who are moving on to play, gulp, the NBA-best Houston Rockets, on either Saturday or Sunday.

"I feel like our effort was outstanding. Theirs was too," said Will Barton, who had 24 points but shot just 3 for 12 after halftime. "They just made the plays at the end. Give them credit."

Barton's 3-pointer beat the shot clock for Denver's first lead, 104-103, since midway through the first quarter. After Gibson hounded Jokic to force an air-balled 3-point try, Jeff Teague swished a floater with 1:19 left in overtime to put the Wolves back in front for good.

Andrew Wiggins sank two foul shots with 15 seconds remaining to make it 110-106 and finish with 18 points, and the Wolves were finally on their way to a celebration more than a decade in the making.

DRAMATIC FINISH

The game marked only the third time since the NBA's current 16-team format began in 1984 that two teams met on the last day of the regular season with the winner qualifying for the playoffs and the loser being eliminated. Washington beat Cleveland in 1997 and Denver beat Sacramento in 1995 to claim the final spots.

DIVISION DOMINANCE

With the loss, the Nuggets finished last in the Northwest Division, a mere three games out of first. This was the first time in 14 seasons since the NBA realigned into six divisions of five times apiece that the last-place team was less than 11 games behind the leader.

BLAZERS 102, JAZZ 93

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard had 36 points and 10 assists and the Trail Blazers snapped a four-game losing streak to earn the Northwest Division title. With the win in the regularseason finale, Portland claimed the third seed in the Western Conference and will play sixth-seeded New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Jazz, who saw a sixgame winning streak snapped, fell to the fifth seed. They'll face No. 4 Oklahoma City on the road to open the playoffs.

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