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Game Preview #11: Wolves vs Knicks

Minnesota welcomes Tom Thibodeau and the New York Knicks to Target Center

Minnesota Timberwolves v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Game Info

What To Watch For

Push the Pace

The Wolves and the Knicks are an interesting matchup between two teams still trying to find their footing, but one way the Wolves can take control tonight is by pushing the ball up the floor. New York doesn’t play remarkably slow, but they are more comfortable in the half-court (15th in pace per, MN 4th). One thing we know about Tom Thibodeau teams is that they will defend, and this Knicks team is no different. The best way for Minnesota to beat his defense is to beat it up the floor with the likes of Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels in transition.

Aside from beating Thibs defense up the floor, it’s just how this offense looks most comfortable. The earlier this group gets into their offense, the better things generally look. The Wolves don’t have a Chris Paul, or even a Jalen Brunson-level player right now in terms of manufacturing late-clock offense for themselves AND their teammates. The hope is that it’ll come, but for now, this team is best suited to push the ball and look to get easy looks that way, as opposed to slowing the game down.

Make New York a Jump-Shooting Team

Nearly every basketball player prefers to attack the basket to their strong hand, but the Knicks have two of the most predictable drivers in the NBA. Both Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett love to go left. Then they left to go left again. And thirdly, they love to drive to their left. Got it yet? These guys love to drive to their left.

Okay, in all seriousness, doing something as simple as making Barrett and Randle play to their right more often will be hugely beneficial for a few reasons. For one, you take away their attacks to the rim as well as their drive and kick game. Alternatively, you make two guys who are genuinely good drivers settle for more jumpers, as most players do going to their weaker hand.

Barrett is only shooting 27.5% from three, and Randle is even worse at 24.4%. Jalen Brunson isn’t quite as predictable going to his left as his fellow lefties in the starting lineup, but the same general though process applies with his as well. He’s only shooting 29.4% on threes this year as well. We know he can shoot better than that, so Minnesota should treat him with more respect than your average sub-30% shooter, but the point remains that he is most lethal from in the paint.

These are guys who will hurt you when you let them get into the teeth of the defense, but are not guys you need to fly out at on the catch. Keeping them out of the lane and making them jump shooters will go a long way towards stifling New York’s offense.

Win the Starters Minutes

Over the last few years, the Knicks have developed a bizarre trend of having a brutal +/- with their starting lineup, and having an awesome bench unit, buoyed by the likes of Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. So far this year, it is less pronounced with virtually every regular sporting an on-court net-rating between +/- 1, but I still believe in the larger sample. In particular, Toppin is far too good to be coming off the bench.

The best chance for Minnesota to win tonight will be for the starters to show some of the same cohesion they did on Saturday evening against Houston, and build an early lead to hand-off to the bench unit. I still have plenty of faith in the Wolves bench, but the Knicks have a better bench than some of the teams they’ve played thus far. It’s going to be important for the Wolves’ starters to take their matchups personally, and build an early lead.

Injury Report

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Josh Minott: OUT — G-League assignment
  • Luka Garza: OUT — G-League assignment
  • Wendell Moore, JR: OUT — G-League assignment
  • Rudy Gobert: OUT — health and safety protocols

New York Knicks

  • Quentin Grimes: QUESTIONABLE — sore left foot
  • Mitchell Robinson: OUT — sprained right knee