The Knicks’ 112-110 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night was emblematic of their season thus far as they have passed the midpoint of their 82-game schedule. The Knicks have been unable to sustain a record above .500 for most of this campaign just as they have labored to win games versus teams above .500 and or distinctly more athletic.
Having risen to 22-21 by winning eight of 11 games from Christmas Day through last Saturday, the Knicks dropped to 22-23 after two straight defeats, both at home. The Charlotte Hornets, who came into New York 23-20, took them down on Monday by 97-87 in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day game, ending the Knicks’ five-game home winning streak. The Timberwolves subsequently evened their record at 22-22 with a victory at the Garden.
Since Nov. 30 when they were 11-10, the Knicks have been over .500 just once. Last Saturday’s 117-108 victory against the Hawks in Atlanta moved them to 22-21. But the breakthrough proved to be fleeting. Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has yet to cement a reliable regular rotation and has shown reluctance in playing reserves, notably second-year forward Obi Toppin, in high leverage moments.
With center Nerlens Noel out on Tuesday for the third straight game with knee soreness, Thibodeau went with guard Alec Burks to close out the game instead of inserting Toppin after center Taj Gibson fouled out with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Knicks held a 107-104 lead when Gibson was disqualified. Starting center Mitchell Robinson had picked up his sixth foul at the 6:29 mark of the quarter.
With Burks, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker on the floor, the Knicks’ small lineup was outscored eight to three by the bigger Timberwolves. Burks, who was scoreless on the night in 17 minutes, missed a potential game-winning, 26-foot three-pointer slightly left of the top of the arc with one-second to go. The Knicks were in large part undone by 18 turnovers—seven by Barrett—and nine missed foul shots (24-33).
Fournier led the Knicks with 27, Randle added 21 and Walker, in his return after being out nine consecutive games with a sore left knee, had 19, 17 in the second half. Fournier expressed Walker’s value being back in the fold.
“He brings speed. He brings an attitude to our team…With him on the floor it adds like another weapon,” said the 6-foot-6 shooting guard. “He’s so good at the pick and roll and off the bounce. Great to have him back.”
The Knicks will face the New Orleans Pelicans at MSG tonight and the Clippers at the Garden on Sunday (1 p.m.) before going on a three-game road trip next week contesting the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, the Miami Heat on Wednesday and the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, three of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.