Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Game Preview & Thread: Knicks @ Wolves

Don’t look now, but the Knicks are streaking! Granted, it’s a seven game losing streak, but that’s beside the point. The Knicks are trending down while their opponent tonight, the Minnesota Timberwolves, are trending up. To get a better idea of what to expect out of this Wolves team I brought in William Bohl of A Wolf Among Wolves and Zach Harper of CBSSports.

Enjoy!

The Wolves are back over .500 and have won six of their last seven games coming into tonight’s game. What’s clicked for this team recently? Are they finally becoming the team we thought they’d be in the preseason?

yWilliam: A combination of factors has led to the Wolves’ recent surge, not the least of which is the incredible play of Kevin Love. In the timeframe you mentioned (the past seven games), he’s averaged 33/13/6 on 51/46/84 shooting splits – absurdly good production out of Minnesota’s franchise player. Secondly, the Wolves have capitalized on a somewhat weak schedule (over this stretch they have played Sacramento, Utah and Denver, twice) but nice victories over Indiana and Phoenix (on the road) shouldn’t be discounted, either. They’re finally playing the way Minnesota fans envisioned they would during the preseason. Finally, the Wolves’ bench has started to come around. Speaking of which…

Zach: The defense over the last seven games has been much better. A big part of that is defending the 3-point line pretty well and not giving up an astronomical percentage in the restricted area. They’ve struggled with that all season long but with Cunningham and Dieng defending the rim, they’ve had a shot blocking presence to alter shots that Kevin Love rebounds after they’ve missed. Over the last seven games, only four teams have defended the three better than Minnesota. Normally, they’re middle of the road.

The Wolves’ bench has been a major target of criticism this season, but have things improved with the second unit recently?

William: Minnesota’s bench was dreadful the first two months of the season, ranking in the bottom five in points per game, but they’ve been much closer to league average since January 1st. Shabazz Muhammad’s big night against Phoenix last week stands out the most, but other Minnesota reserves have been better as well. The streaky, diminutive J.J. Barea is shooting nearly 50% from the floor over his past 7 games, as is forward Dante Cunningham. Chase Budinger has finally found his legs (and shooting stroke) following a prolonged layoff due to knee problems. Even rookie Gorgui Dieng gets into the mix occasionally, and has provided an interior defensive presence the Wolves otherwise lack, especially with Ronny Turiaf (knee) missing extended time.

Zach: It feels like the bench is a lot more competent than it has been, and I think that’s due to a couple of factors. First and foremost, JJ Barea has been a lot better lately. He’s attacking well and he’s understanding the spacing on offense more. Chase Budinger has been a threat and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng have provided a lot of energy and chaos for the opponents. A competent bench has buoyed the game when the starters are out.

Opposing point guards have had a lot of fun against the Knicks this season, but in their previous meeting Rubio and Barea shot a combined 6-for-19 in a winning effort. Should we expect a different result tonight?

William: Between J.J. Barea and Ricky Rubio, the Wolves employ two of the streakiest shooting point guards in the NBA. Both have been better than usual as of late; the oft-maligned Rubio is shooting 44% from the floor, 40% from three and is hitting more than half his shots at the rim since the All-Star break. Those might not sound like terrific numbers, but for fans of the third year Spanish point guard, they’ve been sights for sore eyes. That said, they could go 6-for-19 again, or worse, and no one in Minnesota would bat an eye. It’s impossible to tell with those two.

Zach: I think Barea is in a very good zone right now so he could have a big effort off the bench. Rubio isn’t much of an attacker when he’s playing with Kevin Martin and Love. He’s aggressive in how he attacks the middle of the defense but he doesn’t look for his own shot early in games like he used to. Maybe that will change against whatever defense the Knicks are trying to throw out there. Most likely, I think you’ll just see them try to punish inside with Love and Pekovic.

Having Martin and Pekovic back in the starting lineup is obviously a big boost for this lineup, but what specifically makes the Rubio-Martin-Brewer-Love-Pekovic unit so dominant?

William: It all starts with Kevin Love – he’s 2nd in the league in elbow touches per game and 6th in total touches, often facilitating the offense by hitting cutters, playing a high-low game with Nikola Pekovic, kicking out of the post to open shooters, or finding Corey Brewer for an easy two on a long outlet pass. Kevin Martin provides spacing and three-point shooting, something Minnesota sorely lacked before his arrival, and is a terrific secondary scoring option who can lighten Love’s load. Pekovic does the dirty work, cleaning up the offensive glass and sealing his man for easy duck-in baskets. Rubio is the glue, a pass-first point guard playing with three above-average scorers at their respective positions (Love, Martin, Pekovic) who is more interested in setting them up than getting his own shot. There are some flaws in the Wolves’ overall roster construction, but the starting unit fits together beautifully, and it’s carried them throughout the season.

Zach: They just click as an offensive unit. With Pek and Love rebounding errant shots, it allows Brewer and Rubio to be aggressive defending and put pressure by gambling quite a bit. When it works, they’re deflecting passes and forcing turnovers. This team is very good at forcing turnovers. They’re running on misses and even a lot of makes. They force a lot of mismatches for Love by pushing the tempo and they know how to duck into the paint with Pek for easy buckets when teams try to account for those mismatches.

Who ultimately wins tonight and why?

William: I try to be dispassionate when it comes to game predictions, but between the Wolves’ desperation and the Knicks’ exasperation, it’s hard to picture New York coming away with a victory. The one thing that worries me, however, is the potential for a big night from Carmelo Anthony. Big small forward/power forward combo players have hurt Minnesota this season, as Corey Brewer is much too slight of build (and prone to gambling on the perimeter) to be effective slowing them down. If the Wolves keep ‘Melo in check, it’ll be an easy victory. If not, all bets are off.

Zach: I think the Wolves win because they’re at home and they’re coming back for a key home stand. They can’t afford to give away wins they should record and this is one of those games. Where the Knicks can hurt them is shooting a lot of threes and running/attacking with a small lineup. But that’s going to require some solid/consistent coaching out of Mike Woodson and I don’t have that confidence in him this year.

67 comments on “Game Preview & Thread: Knicks @ Wolves

  1. Kahnzy

    Tonight’s the night we turn things around, go on a tear to close out the season and secure that 8th spot on our way to repeat what the 1999 Knicks did and become just the 2nd team to advance to the finals as the 8th seed! Who’s with me?!?!?!

  2. Kahnzy

    Oh come on, don’t tell me you guys have quit on this team? Why, they’re only one 15 game winning streak away from another inevitable finals run to be forever immortalized in the minds of every Knick fan!

  3. d-mar

    The Knicks can actually look like an NBA team for one quarter. Unfortunately, they revert to looking like the worst team in the NBA for the other three.

  4. Kikuchiyo

    I smell playoffs.

    Oh wait, that’s just my gym bag. I gotta get that thing laundered. Never mind.

  5. Kahnzy

    The presence of Cole Aldrich in non-garbage time is nothing but proof positive that things are about to turn around for another miracle run.

  6. Kahnzy

    I will say that I am glad the Knicks haven’t jumped over the the sleeved/pajama jersey look yet.

  7. ephus

    Prigioni really screwed up his defensive rotation. Doubled for no good reason. Buddinger got the wide open three.

  8. Kahnzy

    I haven’t seen such unstoppable chemistry as Felton and Chandler have since Stockton and Malone. Hall of Fame, here comes Raymond Felton!

  9. ephus

    If you feed Chandler from the shoulders up, he converts frequently.

    If you feed Chandler below his waist, he is virtually certain to lose the ball.

    Chest level passes are 50/50.

  10. Kahnzy

    I’m really glad they stopped calling that delay of game from touching the ball at the rate they were calling it during the preseason.

  11. Kahnzy

    See, let the Wolves have a fast break full court pass for a freebee layup and we get the lasts shot. Who cares if it was a half-court pullup, we got the 2-for-1 baby! Miracles really do happen!

  12. maxwell_3g

    PLease tell me that we have gotten to the point as a fan base that praying for the ability to pay Kevin Love a max contract does NOT seem like a reasonable long term team building strategy. lets leave that for the Lakers

  13. ephus

    Meanwhile, the Nets are up 79-53 over Memphis. Blatche just created an offensive gif. Spinning 8′ finger roll from knee-level.

  14. ephus

    Remember that Love’s max contract starts at 17 million. Big difference from Carmelo.

    Not sure he should be matched with Melo, but he is likely to perform up to his next contract.

  15. ephus

    Do not foul any jump shooter.

    Especially do not foul a jump shooter who cannot shoot.

    So. . . DO NOT FOUL RUBIO.

  16. Kikuchiyo

    So the only question is: will they collapse in the 3rd quarter or the 4th quarter?

    I’m going to go with 3rd quarter.

    But the correct answer may be 3rd AND 4th quarter.

  17. Kahnzy

    I’ve seen this movie before. Hated it!

    Never fret fellow Knickerlover! This one comes with an alternate ending. Woodson has used this entire season to create a very clever ruse that he is, in fact, utterly inept at anything basketball-y. Tonight’s the night he unveils his Popovichian basketball intellect and coaches circles around Rick Adelman!

  18. DRed

    “Would you say we are entering into a zone of Danger?”

    Said Ripley to the android bishop

  19. maxwell_3g

    for being such a “nice guy” as clyde always reminds us he is, chandler picks strange times to be a complete idiot

  20. Owen

    I can report, having been to the meet-up, that Mike K was overjoyed by Country Cole’s outing. Strong attendance from both P@T and K=blogger. Good event.

    I had to leave to minister to my wife, clearly setting in motion a massive jinx. Don’t blame Brian for this loss. Blame me. Because it’s inevitable….

  21. Owen

    lol….

    Shabazz might not end up being a huge bust if he gets to play the Knicks all the time….

  22. Owen

    Hard to believe but I think we got this….

    Going to bank some karma here and point out that I executed the reverse jinx to perfection….

    Cronin, when you read this, take note of my elite technique…

  23. Kahnzy

    Hard to believe but I think we got this….

    Going to bank some karma here and point out that I executed the reverse jinx to perfection….

    Cronin, when you read this, take note of my elite technique…

    I’d like to point out that it was clearly my boundless and unfoundless optimism that carried our beloved Knicks to victory tonight.

  24. Kahnzy

    It was not 48 solid minutes.

    But I’ll take 39 solid minutes and a win.

    And to think all it took was Melo playing the entire game (basically), Felton’s best game of the season (read: the only game this season where Felton has looked like a professional basketball player), and a bad team being bad.

    Things are looking up! Up I say! Mark this date, because today’s the day we bail (bale?) the water out and plug those holes. This ship be float’n!

  25. ephus

    If Felton and JR perform at this level, the Knicks are a .500 team (not a great achievement, but better than the last month).

    I have no idea if either will show up from game to game.

    Hardaway is becoming an offensive liability as he hits the wall. Shooting is meh and he is a complete black hole. Combined with awful defense, he should not play more than 24 minutes.

  26. BigBlueAL

    Despite this horrible season and hating the majority of the players on this team it still feels good to watch them get a win.

  27. maxwell_3g

    maybe we can sign dalembert, beidrins, or some other “veteran” big for next year, just to make sure Tyler continues to get no playing time during next year’s debacle. It would be a shame if we actually developed some young talent with consistent PT

  28. Brian Cronin

    What do you call it when the number next to the Knicks’ name is bigger than the number next to the other team’s name?

  29. Kahnzy

    What do you call it when the number next to the Knicks’ name is bigger than the number next to the other team’s name?

    Oh, I know! Not losing!

  30. lavor postell

    Been traveling a ton for work, but have been reading the comments. Was able to catch last week’s drubbing by Golden State and tonight’s game. With work kicking my ass I kind of have had to devote being a die hard fan to either Michigan basketball or the Knicks. Seeing as how that’s a choice between watching a team win an outright Big Ten championship that nobody predicted had a chance coming into the season, especially when their preseason All-American got hurt, or watching a team that has demonstrated little basketball IQ and a lack of fight it’s been a heavy Michigan lean.

    Nights like this just piss me off because it’s a clear example of what this team could do with consistent production from the point guard and any semblance of solid perimeter shooting. Anyways I always hope that the Knicks will just get on fire and rip off 14 in a row and sneak in as an 8th seed. Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in (Silvio Dante voice, not Michael Corleone).

  31. Brian Cronin

    This is kind of hilarious. The Knicks won and the Hawks lost. And the Knicks still trail them by seven games in the loss column. Man, what the fuck was this team doing these past couple of weeks?

Comments are closed.