Two tough ones on the docket this week for our heroes. With games against a top-tier team from each conference, the Knicks will finish off a five-game road trip tonight and then return home on Friday for an NBA Cup game. (Yeah, yeah, I’m a day behind in filing this . . . how was your Sunday?)
Knicks at Minnesota Timberwolves, 8 pm EST, Monday, November 20, 2023
The Minnesota Timberwolves (9-3) have completed a successful five-game, 10-day road trip, during which they won four out of five contests, and will start a three-game homestand with a tilt against the Knicks tonight. New York is riding a three-game win streak of their own, and this marks the last stop of their five-game road trip.
The Fighting Furballs are no joke. They recently ran off a seven-game win streak and sit tied atop the Western Conference. Anthony Edwards and company are unbeaten on their home court, average 112.9 points per game, and shoot 49% from the field. Edwards is shooting 44% and averages 25.3 points; center Rudy Gobert ranks third in the league in rebounds with 12.3. (FYI, Mitchell Robinson ranks fifth in that category with 11.6.)
The two teams are well matched, statistically. They play physical basketball and rank in the top-five defensively (MIN, 2nd; NYK, 5). The Knicks hold the league’s fourth-best Net Rating; Minny sits right behind them. New York has an edge on offense, perhaps, as they are ranked tenth-best whereas the Wolves are 16th, but the latter outscores the former by two points per game.
Good luck shooting three-pointers against Minnesota, Knicks. They have held opponents to 31% three-point shooting and are especially good at closing out the corners (or so I’ve read). Also, good luck scoring in the paint: opponents make only half their shot attempts there against Minnesota, who are also disciplined enough to not foul too much.
The difference will be on the offensive glass: despite improving from last year and Gobert’s commendable efforts, the T’Wolves rank 17th in offensive rebounding and 16th in preventing opponents from grabbing offensive rebounds. (h/t Canis Hoopus). Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle snatch a combined 21.3 rebounds per game, eight offensive, and if they do so again, our heroes should enjoy a happy plane ride home.
Knicks vs Miami Heat, 7:30 pm EST, Friday, November 24, 2023
On May 12, in Game 6 of the semis, the Miami Heat ended the Knicks’ playoff run, 96-92. Jalen Brunson scoring 41 points (approx 44% of the total team output) proved insufficient to save New York’s season, and the Heat were powered by 47 points and 17 rebounds collectively from their dynamic duo, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The tears in my heart have yet to dry.
The Heat (Boo! Hiss!) started the current campaign slowly but have significantly improved since November 1. After a 1-4 start to the season, the team won seven consecutive games, including a perfect 4-0 road trip. The winning streak was their longest since the 2021-22 season. Granted, on the victorious stretch they beat only one team that is currently over .500 (Lakers), and each victory came by single-digits. Hence, despite being one of the league’s more inefficient teams offensively, the Heat wins games behind a top-10 defense.
Don’t expect any rabbit races when the two clubs play an In-Season Tournament game on Friday. The Knicks are the slowest pace team in the league according to NBA.com; the Heat rank the 22nd-slowest. Neither team has a sterling field goal percentage (MIA 46.1%; NYK 44.3%), and both rate in the bottom-third for points scored per game. But both convert their three-pointers at respectable rates (NYK 38%; MIA 37%) and given the history between the clubs, impassioned play can be assumed. Still smarting over the playoff exit, the Knicks will close this one out in the final minute. At MSG! Wish I had a ticket.