Neal: Scoreboard says loss, but Wolves' resilience was a winner

On Tuesday afternoon, the Wolves announced that Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid were all questionable for that evening's game against Denver.

It would have been understandable if Edwards would have been one of the inactive players. The man has lifted his game in the absence of the injured Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns as the Wolves battle for Western Conference supremacy. And Edwards just returned from a road trip where his aerial attack overwhelmed opponents.

The starting lineups were announced around 7:30. Ant was in the lineup.

He began the first game of their recently completed road trip with the block of the year to preserve a win over Indiana. He ended the road trip with the dunk of the year during a victory at Utah on Monday.

The Wolves arrived back in the Twin Cities early Tuesday morning, banged up but 4-2 on the trip. Edwards dislocated a left finger on that dastardly dunk, had it popped back in and kept playing. And he didn't need no stinking rest on Tuesday.

The Wolves then provided a packed Target Center crowd with an exhibition of their resilience, rallying against the Nuggets and making their superstar Nikola Jokic shake his head with frustration at times while even taking a brief lead in the fourth quarter.

And the Wolves' depth nearly helped them pull off one of the more impressive victories of the season, but Denver edged them 115-112 despite 30 points in 38 minutes from Edwards. His three-point attempt from the left wing bounced off the rim at the buzzer. Jaden McDaniels, who has faded offensively of late, added 26 to keep the Wolves in the game.

The Wolves didn't play like a team banged up with injuries with a star guard who dislocated his finger the night before. Once they figured things out in the second half, they gave the Nuggets fits.

It's a reminder that it's dangerous to assume things before the opening tipoff. You never know what's going to happen when you walk into a gym.

No Towns. No Gobert. No Reid.

No excuses.

Edwards shoved my rest and recovery suggestion in my face with 16 points in the first half on Tuesday on 7-of-13 shooting. Mike Conley, the 36-year-old playmaking savant, played 12 minutes. Luka Garza added 10 points in the first half, just a couple hours after head coach Chris Finch said, "We need him to score."

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But the Wolves trailed by 15 points at halftime and seemed to struggle with not having their three big men available. That changed in their third quarter, when they were more aggressive on the defensive end. They threw their best punches with the personnel they had at their disposal, and responded.

"I thought we were looking for shortcuts, defensively, in the first half," Finch said. "Poor containment. Poor ball pressure. We weren't fighting enough."

Led by a 14-point third quarter from Edwards, the Wolves trailed by three heading into the fourth. McDaniels attacked the rim to provide needed offense. He needs to do that when the team is fully healthy, too. They couldn't slow Denver down enough. Jokic was Jokic, scoring 35 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. But Target Center rocked in the fourth quarter when the Wolves inched ahead. More of that is coming in April and May.

We are nearing the point of the season, with 13 games to play, when teams have to consider keeping players fresh for the postseason. The Wolves surely will have those decisions, too. But how could I forget that this team abhors load management? Finch offered a reminder before the game that his squad is "expected to compete no matter what the circumstances are."

The Wolves went with what they had on Tuesday and were leading the defending NBA champions in the fourth quarter despite down three key players. That only bodes well when Gobert returns to protect the rim and Towns is back as one of the best skilled big men in the game.

The Wolves deserve credit. Injuries or back-to-back games aren't keeping them from battling the league's best teams.

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