Timberwolves star Kevin Love has a left eye injury and won't play on Sunday evening at the Garden. That makes game-planning a whole lot easier for the Knicks. If you recall, Love had a historic 31-point, 31-rebound performance against the Blue and Orange in 2010-11.
Here are three main things to watch, starting at 5 p.m. ET:
1. Set the tempo at the jump. No Love (13.9 rebounds per game) means more opportunities to snatch misses off the rim and push the pace -- something the Knicks couldn't do against the Bulls on Friday night. It's important the Knicks don't fall into a slower halfcourt game early on. They need to capitalize with a few fast-break buckets. They sure would like a couple of transition 3-pointers from Carmelo Anthony -- the key to his league-leading average of 10 first-quarter points.
2. Can the Knicks bring their best pick-and-roll defense? The Timberwolves have one of the deepest point-guard rotations in the league with Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea. Tyson Chandler knows the speedy Barea from their 2010-11 championship season together in Dallas. In addition, Minnesota's shooting guard Alexey Shved is basically another seasoned floor general. He makes smart plays around screens, leading to his 4.5 assists per game, tied for second-most on the team. He can also get inside the lane and pull up way beyond the 3-point line.
What enhances Minnesota's pick-and-roll game is burly center Nikola Pekovic, who's averaging career-highs in points (16.0) and rebounds (7.9). Without Amar'e Stoudemire, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace, Chandler will, once again, be banging and clawing in a lot of minutes. Hopefully this time, there's no extra frustration that leads to a messy collapse like the one on Friday night.
3. Anthony vs. Andrei Kirilenko. Of course, there's no one in the league who can contain Melo. As Nets coach Avery Johnson put it last week, he's "on another planet right now." But someone who can make him work harder on the court? That would be the Timberwolves' defensive specialist. Kirilenko is one of the rare players who can cover an entire stat line. On the season, he's averaging 13.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.6 blocks.
Kirilenko is active and aggressive, like the five international players in Minnesota's rotation who learned to be physical when they were in their teens already competing against grown men on foreign club teams. Anthony said his guys couldn't match the Bulls' physicality in the first quarter, so the Knicks will have be ready to combat that tonight. And it starts with his head-to-head matchup with the Russian.
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