By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
Knicks vs. Timberwolves | Target Center
When: Friday | 8:00 PM
Where to Watch: MSG Networks
Where to Listen: ESPN 98.7 FM
New York: After reeling off five wins a row and returning to the form that saw them surge to the top of the Eastern Conference to start the season, the Knicks will attempt to begin a new streak tonight after dropping a tough one in Washington on Wednesday. It wasn't the disaster that some made it out to be -- not when you consider that the Wizards have gone 8-7 since John Wall returned from injury -- but defensive effort was lackluster and nearly everyone on the team acknowledged after the game that they need to defend the pick-and-roll better.
Minnesota: A summer of optimism that had Minnesotans thinking playoffs for the first time in the Kevin Love era has given way to what's looking like a lost season. Their injured list looks like an All-Star roster, with stars like Kevin Love, Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko all missing significant time, so it should come as no surprise that they are struggling, big time. Point guard Ricky Rubio is a special passer, but at this point he doesn't have many capable finishers on the other end. Center Nikola Pekovic is not particularly athletic, but he is a fantastic finisher at the rim and uses his girth as well as anyone in the league.
Last Time Out
New York: Despite a second half rally, the Knicks were unable to contain the Wizards' hot shooting and fell, 106-96 on Wednesday.
Minnesota: The Wolves lost to the Spurs, 104-94, on Wednesday. It was their 8th loss in the last 9 game, also their 13th of the last 15.
The Numbers Game
The Wolves' projected starting lineup of Rubio, Shved, Kirilenko, Love and Pekovic has played a total of five mnutes together this season.
Matchup to Watch
Tyson Chandler vs. Nikola Pekovic
They do it in different ways, but Chandler and Pekovic are two of the more effective big men in the NBA. Chandler dominates with his athleticism and ability to defend the paint, while Pek uses his strength to overpower opponents on the glass and possesses uncanny touch around the hoop for a player of his size. He won't draw Chandler away from the basket, but he will punish the Knicks on the offensive glass if they don't put a body on him. When he's defending the pick-and-roll, Pek won't move his feet like Chandler, but he is smart and tough to move.
What to Look For
Tyson Chandler and others spoke after the game in Washington about needing to communicate better on defense, especially when teams try to spread them out and run high pick-and-roll. Few point guards are as fast with the ball as the Wizards' John Wall, but if Rubio isn't one of them, he's close. He's also a uniquely gifted distributor who, like Wall, struggles with his own shot but manages to set up his teammates with quality looks anyway. The Knicks are obviously a more talented team, but containing Rubio penetration will be key if they want to avoid getting burned from beyond the 3-point line off of drive-and-kicks.