Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. New York Knicks, 2/8/13

Photo Credit: Associated Press
Photo Credit: Associated Press

The Timberwolves conclude their six game homestand Friday night with a visit from the NY Knicks.  The homestand has not been very successful, as the team has only been able to pull out one victory thus far.  Adding insult to injury, literally, is the announcement that Andrei Kirilenko will miss Friday’s game with his quad injury.  Earlier Friday, the team announced that they waived Lou Amundson and resigned Gelabale and Johnson for the remainder of the season. 

The Knicks come into Friday’s game off of a surprising loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.  I was hoping they would be asleep at the wheel for tonight’s game, but that loss was probably enough of a wakeup call.  The Knicks hold a 3 game lead over the Nets in the Atlantic division and are 1.5 games behind Miami for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.   

This week, we continue our Q&A format for Friday night game previews with Knicks blogger Matt Shelter from Buckets Over Broadway

Here’s our Q&A …

Knicks Question #1 for Matt:

The Knicks are in first place in the Atlantic division and right there with Miami for the best record in the Eastern Conference.  Are they exceeding your expectations this season?  If you could only select one or two key reasons for the team’s success thus far, what would it/they be? 


I would say first of all, everyone has bought into what Mike Woodson is selling, and most importantly that includes Carmelo Anthony, who looks like he is finally getting what it takes to not only lead a team, but most importantly what it takes to play winning team basketball. Secondly, their depth is an asset. Woodson can go 10 deep or more on any given night, which a lot of teams can’t do. Also throw a hat tip to Raymond Felton, who plays his best basketball in a Knicks’ jersey. It is hard to underestimate his value to this team.


Pups Question #1 for John:

The expectations were high coming into the season. I had the ‘Wolves pegged as a playoff team. How disappointing is this season to ‘Wolves fans?


This season has been brutal.  Expectations were sky high and the playoffs were well within range.  The onslaught of injuries makes this season feel like a four month long episode of Punk’d.  I’m half expecting Kevin Love to rip off his warm-ups and have a Lakers jersey on and turn heel. 

All kidding aside, it has been rough to watch this team fall apart.  They were able to tread water early without Love and Rubio.  When Love came back from his first hand injury they started to float above water and greener pastures were awaiting with the return of Rubio.  Unfortunately, it has all been flushed away with injuries to just about every single person on the roster.  Love is out again, Budinger was phenomenal before going down, Roy’s knee is acting up (he’s done), Josh Howard going down for the season, and the handful or more games missed by just about every single other person.  Not fun times. 


Knicks Question #2 for Matt:

Given that they are the oldest team in the league (average age of 31.3), do you fear that the Knicks will start to show some of the wear and tear on their body as the season moves towards the playoffs? 


Yes and no. Given their age, we have already seen guys like Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd suffer through injuries, but as I mentioned before, the Knicks have extraordinary depth. Now that Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert are healthy, Woodson will be able to limit their minutes to keep their legs fresh for the postseason.


Pups Question #2 for John:

The Knicks have had their share of injuries, but no team in the NBA has been as beat up as Minnesota. You can’t make excuses for injuries, but how good is this team if they are completely healthy?


They are definitely a playoff team in my mind, even in a very crowded Western Conference.  With a perfectly healthy roster (or a lack of significant injuries over the course of the season) this year’s team was a 7 or 8 seed in the conference, given Rubio’s delayed return from his ACL tear.  With a minor move before the deadline (Barea or Ridnour, or Derrick Williams) they could have moved up a bit further. 

Next season – which is a familiar phrase for Wolves fans – will be critical.  They need to resign Pekovic to stay on track, but they absolutely have to make the necessary tweaks to make the playoffs and “appease” Love and Rubio in an effort to have any chance of keeping those two around long term.  With an upgrade at SG added to this roster, they could (not will, but could) make a deep run in the playoffs. 


Knicks Question #3 for Matt:

Do you expect the Knicks to move Amare Stoudemire before the trading deadline?  Do you expect the team to make any moves at all before the deadline?  If so, what are you hearing could be in the pipeline?


First of all, Stoudemire isn’t going anywhere. Before his recent stretch of good play, the Knicks would have given him away for free for cap relief, but no team in the NBA will take on his salary with his injury history, especially with the new CBA. The Knicks need to add another big body, especially with Camby and Wallace on the shelf, but the problem is that they have 15 guaranteed contracts and would have to release someone and eat the contract even to sign a free agent like Kenyon Martin. That isn’t going to happen. The funny thing about winning for a change is that you aren’t linked to many players as the trade deadline approaches. The only player they have been linked to has been Lou Amundson and they aren’t going to mess with their roster to bring him in. My gut feeling is what you see is what you get.


Pups Question #3 for John:

Similar question. Do you see Minnesota making any moves and will they eventually be forced to move Kevin Love?


I expect the Wolves will try to move Ridnour (as rumored already), but I would prefer they try to move Barea.  They may have already tried this path and come to the realization that they can’t.  That said, I don’t expect any big moves from the team, especially when they continue to fall in the standings and out of the playoff race. 

As mentioned earlier, I do expect them to make a few significant moves in the offseason though.  That has to start with resigning Pekovic and then quickly finding a new home for Derrick Williams and Ridnour or Barea – if that isn’t already taken care of by that point. 

While I would love to say that Kevin will be a lifetime Timberwolf, I just don’t see it happening.  I fully expect him to opt-out of his contract and/or alert the team that this is going to be his decision, allowing the front office to find some type of package for him.  By no means is this going to end well. 

We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and the Knicks.  Again, you can read more from Matt at Buckets Over Broadway and follow him on Twitter.  You can read more from John on and/or follow him on Twitter as well.

Minnesota Timberwolves 91 – New York Knicks 94

Timberwolves' Nikola Pekovic had his hands full against a long and athletic New York Knicks frontcourt (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic had his hands full against a long and athletic New York Knicks frontcourt (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

In what seems to be a continuing theme of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Minnesota Timberwolves were the latest team to leave Madison Square Garden with a bad taste in their mouths due to yet another late-game Knicks comeback led by Carmelo Anthony. New York outscored the Timberpups 48-36 in the second half and ultimately knocked off the Wolves 94-91 in the final seconds. Anthony, who scored 19 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, is currently enjoying one of the best seasons of his career averaging an even 28 PPG with a player efficiency rating of 26.37, leading New York to a 20-7 record which is good for 2nd in the Eastern Conference.

Game Summary

Despite enduring a fourth-quarter collapse, there were many positives to take out of this game. To begin, the Wolves once again demonstrated their ability to effectively score on the low post, even when facing reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler. Playing without Kevin Love, who missed the game due to an eye injury sustained in the Wolves win against OKC, the Pups relied heavily on Nikola Pekovic to provide the majority of the team’s offense on the low post.

Minnesota entered today’s contest with the highest rebounding rate in the NBA, and even without Love were able to outrebound the Knicks 47-35, including 13 offensive rebounds as a team. Turnovers were a problem for the Wolves, who committed 16 while allowing the Knicks to steal the ball 11 times.

In an electric Madison Square Garden atmosphere, Ricky Rubio had yet another tough performance in which he committed 5 turnovers and 4 personal fouls during his 18-minute time constraint. Rubio clearly lacks the explosiveness and cutting ability that he demonstrated last season and his return to full strength will require much more patience than was initially anticipated following his incredible season debut versus the Dallas Mavericks. Ricky finished with 5 points (2-6 FG), 2 assists and 1 rebound.

Alexey Shved continues to play fantastic against some of the leagues top teams, and the packed Knicks crowd gave a collective head scratch while asking “Who the heck is Alexey Shved?” Shved contributed with his perimeter shooting and his patience on the pick-and-roll, nailing 4 of his 9 three-point attempts while logging 39 minutes. As he continues to adjust to his role as a starter, some of the growing pains associated with his increased workload were evident in his 5 turnovers committed. Shved showed off his poise in the clutch after stripping J.R. Smith on an inbound pass and drilling a three-pointer to cut the Knicks lead to 1 point with only seconds remaining. However, following two Carmelo free throws, Shved was unable to tie the game on a contested three-point attempt and the Knicks held on to win. Alexey nonetheless impressed in what was his first exposure to many New Yorkers, and ended with the line of 18 points (7-16 FG), 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal.

After having to guard LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the past two games, Andrei Kirilenko had his hands full matched up against yet another superstar SF in Carmelo Anthony. Through 3 quarters, it appeared as if AK-47 were getting the better of the matchup, holding Melo to 14 points entering the final period. However, Carmelo exploded in the final quarter and Kirilenko fouled out in just 20 minutes on the court. Backing up AK at PF was Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams, with Cunningham seeing the majority of the reserve minutes. “DC Hustle” provided solid defense in both the interior and on the perimeter, and finished with 12 points (6-10 FG), 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and no turnovers. A very efficient night for Cunningham as he continues to provide efficient minutes in a variety of roles for the Timberwolves.

With Love out, Rick Adelman went small tonight by starting Shved along with JJ Barea and Luke Ridnour. Each player logged 38 minutes and were for the most part largely effective. However, the Pups had a very tough time creating offense in the fourth quarter, and hard-hedging by the Knicks effectively hurt Minnesota’s spacing while pushing Wolves ball handlers away from the lane. Both players had a tough time penetrating the lane and settled with too many contested looks down the stretch, which ultimately contributed to the Pups demise.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Carmelo AnthonyNo questions here, Melo earned this one. Although it took him a while to get hot, Anthony did not hesitate and continued to attack the rim while not shying away from taking jump-shots. Improved ball movement in the second half allowed Melo to get a few more uncontested looks, which he knocked down in the fourth quarter. In a game-high 44 minutes played, Anthony finished with 33 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and 4 turnovers.
  2. J.R. SmithFitting that Anthony’s old running mate from his days back in Denver receives the second star, as Smith not only provided with his perimeter shooting but also from his passing. Smith was a game-high +8 on the court and finished with the line of 19 points (7-15 FG, 2-6 3FG), 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 turnovers in 39 minutes.
  3. Nikola PekovicPek had the burden of carrying the load for Minnesota offensively faced against Tyson Chandler, but nonetheless provided 21 points (7-16 FG) and 17 rebounds in 40 minutes. While he cannot stretch the floor like K-Love, Pek continues to be vital for Minnesota’s success and increases the Wolves vesatility as a scoring unit.

Although this one is tough to swallow, the Wolves will likely get K-Love back for their matchup against the Houston Rockets at home on Wednesday night at 7:00 PM CT.