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Game Preview #32: Wolves at Knicks

Minnesota kicks off their 2024 with an early tip at Madison Square Garden as they look to sweep the New York Knicks for the season.

Minnesota Timberwolves v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves will have less than 15 hours into the new year before they take to the hardwood again. During their previous meeting against the New York Knicks in November, they won a rather drama-less contest where they trailed for only one minute and eleven seconds of game action. They run it back for their second and last meeting of the season, though New York may look just a little bit different this time.


Game Info


Injury Report

Updated as of Monday 12/31 at 1:15 PM CT:

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Leonard Miller (G League Assignment)
  • Wendell Moore Jr. (G League Assignment)

New York

AVAILABLE

  • Precious Achiuwa (trade)
  • O.G. Anunoby (trade)

OUT:

  • Malachi Flynn (right ankle sprain)
  • Mitchell Robinson (left ankle surgery)

The Numbers

Minnesota

OFFRTG: 113.7 (18th)
DEFRTG: 108.0 (1st)
NETRTG: +5.7 (5th)

eFG%: 55.8 (6th)
FTr: .286 (6th)
TOV%: 15.7 (28th)
OREB%: 28.1 (20th)

PACE: 99.20 (18th)
FBPS: 13.0 (21st)
2nd PTS: 13.1 (25th)
PITP: 50.1 (16th)

New York

OFFRTG: 117.3 (10th)
DEFRTG: 115.5 (18th)
NETRTG: +1.8 (12th)

eFG%: 53.7 (21st)
FTr: .277 (8th)
TOV%: 13.4 (14th)
OREB%: 33.1 (2nd)

PACE: 98.47 (24th)
FBPS: 14.7 (12th)
2nd PTS: 16.3 (3rd)
PITP: 48.8 (22nd)

What To Watch For

New York Knicks v Toronto Raptors Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

New York’s New Look

The first major mid-season trade landed Saturday morning. President of the Toronto Raptors and noted tough negotiator, Masai Ujiri, finally relented from his sky-high asking price for 26-year-old forward, OG Anunoby. At one point, it was rumored that Uriji was looking for a haul of at least three first round draft picks for prized 3&D player, but he ultimately decided to move him (and a few fillers) for RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and a second round pick. Anunoby looks like a prototypical “Thibs” player who has All-Defensive team potential, which is ironic since Tom Thibodeau passed on drafting Anunoby in the 2017 draft, opting for a 3rd/4th string center, Justin Patton.

But I digress. The Wolves will likely get the first look at the new Knicks team. Their starting five likely gets a huge boost, as Anunoby is a much better fit next to the high usage Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, while being miles better as a defender and spot up shooter than Barrett. That said, losing one of the best sixth men in the league in Quickley will have consequences for them.

Milwaukee Bucks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

All About the Start

Minnesota will likely be with their loves ones on Sunday night as they watch the ball drop at Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Who could blame them? They deserve to celebrate a bit. They enter the 2024 calendar year atop the Western Conference standings after all. However, this means they’ll have to shake off any residual hangovers from a night of partying on the road quickly, as they have a 2:00pm local tip-off. This will be the earliest game they’ll play all season. History has already shown us that non-traditional game times have thrown off the young Wolves.

They’ll have their work cutout for them, as the Knicks are the fifth best team in net rating during the first quarter of games (+7.8) while the Wolves hardly break even (-0.1). Minnesota may simply have to hang on for dear life until the #3rdQuarterWolves arrive. Will Anthony Edwards, who’s been averaging 32.1 points per game on 49.4% shooting in his last eight games, be able to lead again? Or will Karl-Anthony Towns, who has a knack for signature performances against his hometown team, finally break out of his slump?

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Life Without Mitchell Robinson

New York is 5-6 since losing the league’s top offensive rebounder (OREB%), Mitchell Robinson. In his stead, former G League MVP, Isaiah Hartenstein, has taken over the starting role while almost averaging a double-double, nearly two blocks a game, and is third best in OREB%. The recent FIBA World Cup champion has helped his team stay above water, as the Knicks have increased their offensive rating from 115.5 to 120.5 since the Robinson injury, but their defensive rating has plummeted by over 10 points, from 111.9 to 122.2. The Knicks are on a three-game losing streak thanks to their lackluster defense, and just gave up 140 to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. Hartenstein will have his hands full with Minnesota’s frontcourt, considering Gobert went a perfect seven for seven from the field the last time these two teams played.

Though Hartenstein has done an admirable job, this is Tom Thibodeau we’re talking about. Any excuse to sign an old friend, he’ll absolutely do it. Alas, we will get to see our old friend, the 2018 Game 82 MVP, Taj Gibson, in action. Yes, the 38 year-old forward has been thrust into ten or more minutes in the last handful of games. Shoutout to the league’s only #67 who will forever be revered in Wolves lore.

Miami Heat v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Battle of the Bench and Beyond the Arc

In their previous meeting, Minnesota’s bench outscored New York’s bench 43 to 30 thanks to double-digit performances from Kyle Anderson and Naz Reid. Coach Chris Finch recently teased at wanting to feature a ninth man in his rotation more, so with Nickeil Alexander-Walker accompanying the two others above, it’ll be interesting to see who’ll win the final spot between Troy Brown Jr., Shake Milton, and Jordan McLaughlin. Meanwhile, the Knicks will have a lot to figure out with their new lineup. Quickley chipped in 15 points when the two teams last met, so it’ll be interesting to see if Thibs is willing to give anyone else a shot.

Both teams are in the bottom half of teams in terms of three-point shooting frequency. Each team shot under 33% from perimeter in their previous game, though some credit should be given to Minnesota’s defense which held their opponent to 34.8% from the field overall and 23.7% from beyond the arc. Quentin Grimes, Donte DiVincenzo, and Quickley combined to go 2/19 from distance, but Naz Reid, Brown, and Edwards combined for just 3/15.

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Frequent Foul Line Visitors — Randle & Brunson

It’s no secret that New York relies heavily on the offensive firepower of Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. Their shot making is dangerous, but their ability to draw contact is lethal. They both rank in the top 20 of free throws made and are effective foul merchants. I guarantee it won’t take more than one half of basketball before Wolves Twitter is comparing the whistle that Brunson gets to what Ant gets. Hopefully assistant coach Elston Turner will have heavily drilled his team on “showing their hands” and the art of verticality in practice. We all know the bevy of defenders that Finch has at his disposal, but all hands (and fouls) will need to be on deck.


Predictions

  • Tom Thibodeau plays each of his starters well over 35 minutes and they run out of gas after early in the final period.
  • Wolves are victorious with a final score of 113-101.