Coming off a signature win over the West-leading OKC Thunder, the Wolves take on the East-leading Knicks Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The 13-11 Wolves will be without Kevin Love, who played one of his best one or two games of the season on Thursday, with 28, 11, and, perhaps most indicative of the way the Wolves played against OKC, a season-high 7 assists; the Wolves moved the ball better against the Thunder than in any game this season, and with only a minimal contribution from point guard extraordinaire Ricky Rubio, who’s still on a limited-minutes program as he completes his comeback from a season-ending knee injury.
Love’s minutes will be divided between much-maligned Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham. Just when you think Derrick Williams won’t get any more chances, someone gets hurt, and Derrick Williams gets another chance. So far, he’s never done anything with any of them. Cunningham has exceeded expectations this season, and should give the Wolves the kind of steady but unspectacular performance Wolves fans have become accustomed to. The Wolves offense tends to flow better when Love isn’t on the floor, but there’s still no replacing his 20 & 13.
The Knicks are more than a worthy opponent, Love or no Love. A few things to watch for:
- Melo, Melo, Melo: Carmelo Anthony would be in the conversation for MVP if the season ended today. He’ll score a ton of points, that’s a given. How hard will the Wolves make him work for them? Can they make him earn his 30+, like Kirilenko did to Kevin Durant on Thursday?
- Battle of the point guards: Ricky Rubio is likely to continue coming off the bench until he shakes the rust off and demonstrates he’s healthy. That means you’ll be seeing more Luke-Alexey, not just today, but probably for at least another week. Ray Felton has helped New Yorkers get over their Linsanity. Felton has lost some weight since he was laughably out of shape last year in Portland, but he’s still big and physical and won’t be easy for Luke Ridnour to guard.
- Jason Kidd: When Kidd came into the League back in 1966, he was renowned as a speed demon on the break, and a point guard who could rack up assists with the best of ’em. Now, at age 63, Kidd has slowed, and is no longer the transition threat he was in his ABA heydays of the 1970s. But in the meantime, Kidd has transformed himself into an excellent standstill shooter and has been a very pleasant surprise for the Knicks. He’ll make the Wolves pay if their defensive rotations aren’t quick by hitting corner three after corner three. (Oh, and this is kind of a throwaway aside, because one player’s anomalous trajectory means nothing for another’s, but the fact that Kidd can now shoot does give just a teeny tiny bit of hope that one day, Rubio, too, will be able to hit treys at a decent clip.)
- Knicks Depth: All the chatter is about Melo, but he isn’t doing it all by himself. The Knicks have great depth, sort of like the Wolves would if we hadn’t been hit by so many injuries. Steve Novak is a great three point shooter. So is JR Smith, who can also put up points in a lot of ways, and fast. Rasheed Wallace is nice again. Chris Copeland hit for 29 the other day when Melo was out. 35 year old rookie Pablo Prigioni has looked pretty good when I’ve seen him play. This team has lots of really, really good players. Oh, yeah – that Chandler guy – he’s good at defense also.
Enjoy the game folks.
UPDATE (2:32 PM): It appears Sheed won’t be on the floor to brighten our day after all. The world’s loss.