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Game Preview: Knicks at Timberwolves- 12/28/21

A depleted T-Wolves, playing the second of a back-to-back? Not so fast.

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In their last meeting of last season, on Cesar Chavez Day, the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the New York Knicks 102-101 thanks to a 32-20 fourth quarter. Neophyte Anthony Edwards led the charge with 24 points, and Malik Beasley added 20. For the Knicks, Julius Randle scored 26, and RJ Barrett chipped in 23.

On Tuesday, the Knicks venture back into the wilderness for a rematch. This time around, Minnesota (16-17) has the league’s eleventh-best defense and is a challenge when its best players are available. Tonight it looks like they’ll be shorthanded again, which presents a prime opportunity for the Knicks to improve upon their 15-18 record.

Not so fast, Knicks fans. These ramshackle Wolves roared back to defeat the Boston Celtics last night, 108-103, with a 29-point performance by back-up Jaylen Nowell and a star turn by fourth-stringer Nathan Knight. Minny may not be such a pushover after all.

Will our heroes win and be in position to reach .500 on New Year’s Eve? Or will they turn into p-p-popsicles on and off the c-c-court? Tip-off’s at 8 PM, furballs.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Patrick Beverley is probably back tonight. Pat Bev is averaging 8.7 points, 4.7 assists, and 4.5 rebounds this year. The nine-year vet is a defensive disruptor, deflecting about three balls a game, and an excellent passer. He’s no outside threat, though, shooting about four threes per game, making 32%.

Beverley may be Kemba Walker’s toughest opponent since ascending from pine-purgatory to player-of-the-week glory. Congrats, Kemba:

Expect to see plenty of Malik Beasley tonight. This season, the 25-year old shooting guard has averaged 12.3 points and 3.2 rebounds in about 27 minutes per game. He’s a disinterested defender and sports a 113 defensive rating. RJ Barrett will likely draw his number on defense, but he and Evan Fournier should take turns scoring against “The Mutant” (h/t Basketball-Reference).

Sophomore Anthony Edwards is a beast. The 6’4”, 225 lbs wing plays solid defense and no slouch on the offense, averaging 22.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. Gotta admit, I was hoping to seeing this 20-year old dynamo play, but it sounds like his return will be gradual, too.

The sophomore Jaden McDaniels is a decent defender (109.8 rating) and has averaged 7.0 points and 4.6 rebounds. The 21-year old, Washington product has a 45% eFG and is shooting a woolly 27% from deep—but grabbed 17 points and five boards in 36 minutes last night. Basketball-Reference lists him as a power forward, but at 6’9”, 185 lbs, that seems hard to believe. He’ll have a tough time against Julius Randle, who ought to be switched to Bully-Ball mode tonight.

The depth chart rates the Syracuse-born Nathan Knight fourth behind Towns, Reid, and Vanderbilt, but thanks to COVID, he went from 5.3 minutes per game to starting last night. The 6’10”, 253 lbs center thoroughly impressed, hitting career-highs of 20 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists in 29 minutes. Keep an eye on this 24-year old sophomore, who might not be such an easy match-up for Mitchell Robinson.

PREDICTIONS

Fun fact: The T-Wolves sixth all-time scorer is Wally Szczerbiak (6,777 points). Karl-Anthony Towns is second on the list (10,086 in seven seasons) behind Kevin Garnett (19,201 in 14 seasons). Q for the Comments: Will KAT ever top the list?

The Knicks and Wolves have played 60 regular-season games, and the Knicks lead 33-27. After this one, it will be 34, folks. I predict the Knicks will soar victoriously over the Twin Cities as they depart for Wednesday’s game in Detroit. Otherwise, Thibs makes them walk to Michigan.

Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tuesday. 8 PM. Stay warm, Knicks!