Tom Thibodeau won’t have to look far Sunday night for reminders of what he’s trying to accomplish with the New York Knicks.
The Knicks will look to continue their surprising surge into playoff contention when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves in a nonconference matchup.
The Knicks had their three-game winning streak snapped and missed a rare chance to climb back to .500 Wednesday night, when they fell to the host Orlando Magic 107-89. The Timberwolves suffered their third straight loss and remained in the NBA’s basement Friday night at 7-23, when they concluded a homestand by falling to the Toronto Raptors 86-81.
The lopsided loss to the Magic served as a reminder of how far the Knicks have to go and how thin their margin for error remains despite their relatively fast start. New York entered Saturday allowing an NBA-low 103.7 points per game but is just 7-15 when allowing at least 100 points in a game, as opposed to 7-1 when allowing fewer than 100 points.
“We didn’t defend well,” Knicks forward Julius Randle said Wednesday night. “We didn’t help each other well. We could be better. We’ve relied on our defense and shown all year we’re a great defensive team. We got to be better next game.”
Despite Wednesday’s loss, the Knicks are guaranteed to enter Sunday with a grip on an Eastern Conference playoff spot under Thibodeau, the first-year head coach who is trying to do what his six predecessors could not by directing New York to the playoffs.
The Knicks haven’t reached the playoffs since the spring of 2013, the longest drought in the Eastern Conference and the third-longest dry spell overall in the NBA behind the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.
The Knicks represent the second reclamation project for Thibodeau, who helped the Timberwolves snap a 13-season playoff drought — two seasons shy of the longest postseason drought in NBA history — in the spring of 2018. Minnesota had eight coaches — including Kevin McHale and the late Flip Saunders twice apiece — in between playoff appearances.
Thibodeau, who was serving as team president as well as head coach, was fired from both positions after the Timberwolves stumbled to a 19-21 start in 2018-19. Minnesota has since undertaken a complete rebuilding project centered around Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell
But Towns and Russell have played together just four times this season for the Timberwolves, who are 2-2 in those games and 5-21 without the duo. Towns suffered a wrist injury before battling the coronavirus while Russell will be out until at least mid-March following left knee surgery.
On Friday, the Timberwolves trailed by 19 points in the first half and mounted a 25-1 run spanning the third and fourth quarters before allowing the Raptors to overcome a six-point deficit by scoring the game’s final 11 points.
“We’ve got to play the whole 48,” said Timberwolves rookie forward Jaden McDaniels. “Just be super intense while we play defense.
“The fourth is different from the first, second and third. So it’s a whole other level of intensity we’ve got to pick up.”
–Field Level Media