Timberwolves at Knicks Preview: Three Long Years Away

It’s been three years since the Timberwolves have beaten the New York Knicks, which they did on November 12th, 2010. Back then, we didn’t know what Linsanity was and Corey Brewer had yet to be traded for Darko Milicic and Anthony Randolph (Bad thoughts…block them out…block them out…), who were still Timberwolves and Knicks, respectively. Heck, the Knicks didn’t even have Melo yet, so this is a very different NBA we are talking about.

At least the three consecutive games that they have lost to New York were all closely contested affairs. Jeremy Lin lifted the Knicks over the Timberwolves in February ’12 despite struggling for most of the game. Then last season they lost by three in their lone visit to Madison Square Garden by three (although the Knicks went 6-26 from three, ‘Melo had 33 points) and the Knicks would go on to sweep the series later on at Target Center.

How about the last time the Timberwolves beat the Knicks? If you’ll remember, that was Kevin Love’s big 31-point/31-rebound game. Not only is 31/31 impressive to begin with, but even more impressive considering the build of the roster around him at that time.

Wolves Knicks roster

Chart courtesy of Basketball-reference.com

My, look at those starters. Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Sebastian Telfair– the trio who enabled the Phoenix Suns to earn enough ping-pong balls last season to draft Alex Len. Then there’s Darko, who decided to ultimately walk away from the NBA altogether before last season with the Celtics. So, just three years later, the players aside from Love who started this game are either A) out of the NBA; or B) on minimum deals elsewhere.

This was also Nikola Pekovic before he was Nikola Pekovic: Destroyer of worlds, and be also before Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer were able to carve out their niches in the NBA, otherwise I would regard the talent in this game much more highly. Still, Love didn’t just grab 31 rebounds: he needed to grab 31 rebounds given the personnel around him.

Although the Knicks were pretty imperfect from a roster standpoint, putting up 31/31 is remarkable to do against anyone. Now, if you replayed this game with these exact players, Love probably grabs 41. Look:

Knicks roster

Chart courtesy of Basketball-reference.com

There are some still very good NBA players on this  team — Gallinari, Felton, Mozgov, and Amare, when healthy — but it’s not so surprising they came into this game with a 3-6 record. I can recall at the time people questioning how long you could run Amare at center and hope to keep him healthy, but there’s a reason they traded for ‘Melo and a reason they would sign Tyson Chandler from Dallas the following season.  Still, Wilson Chandler, who found success last season in Denver as a power forward, was not going to keep Love off of the glass that night.

Additionally, this was probably also the greatest game of Michael Beasley’s career and the game fans of the team he signs his minimum contract with every season that HE JUST NEEDS MORE TIME!!! Beasley was efficient — 16 for 29, or 52% — and added four assists (Sounds high, but it’s true) and six rebounds on 35 points. Even I got caught up in thinking that there may be something here, but looking back it was a little naive since he took two free throw attempts all game. So what, right?   Well, that means that since he also took four threes that most of his attempts were of his famous midrange variety and wasn’t being as aggressive as he needed to be– a common Beasley complaint.

But it was an incredible night to be a Timberwolves fan since it had been such a long time since it had been so long since we had much to be excited about at all. Al Jefferson had just been traded months before to free up playing time for Love, and Love put up a historic performance early in the season, and was really the starting point of him taking that next step as a player. We even talked ourselves into Beasley, fronting him credit for weeks after this game, but realized that it’s probably not true if you have to talk yourself into it.

Finally, later on in that season Brewer is dealt to New York after the Timberwolves decline his option for the following season for Randolph and Darko as a part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.

The last time the Timberwolves beat the Knicks feels like it was much longer than three years ago since the NBA amalgamate has changed so much in that time. I mean, the ‘Melo trade was an absolute blockbuster, and whether or not you thought it would last, Linsanity had yet to be a thing and you probably had a strong opinion either way. For the Timberwolves, Love is a star, Nikola Pekovic is a max-contract player and Ricky Rubio has now been here for his third season now. For the Timberwolves, the NBA and everyone involved it’s been a whirlwind of days since November 2010.

Tonight, the Timberwolves look to push their winning streak to three and the Knicks will look to hit their stride at home. There are lots of new faces in New York including Ron Artest  Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani, which is Italian for “Bargsanity.” Perhaps a Timberwolves team coming off of a blowout of Oklahoma City on Friday night is not what the Knicks need to try to get on a roll, but Minnesota will have to be on the lookout for a trap game since the Knicks are likely a better team than they’ve shown and will wind up in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

These two teams have changed so much since 2010, it’s hard to recognize them when you reflect back on that game three Novembers ago. With both teams improved since then it should be another good game considering the subsequent three games have been very good. Besides, padding their first place division lead wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Timberwolves. Not at all.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

When: 6:30 CST

See/Hear It: FSN Plus and WCCO AM 830

Note: Ronny Turiaf is out tonight after fracturing his elbow on the hardwood at Target Center on Friday night.