The NBA finally returned from the All-Star break last night with a 6-game slate, and Friday brings us another 9 games in the Association. None of the teams on the schedule tonight played last night, so all 18 clubs should be fresh and ready to roll. One of the games on the docket tonight is an interconference tilt in the Big Apple, where the lowly Knicks will host the inconsistent Minnesota Timberwolves.
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The Knicks have been out of the playoff picture for quite some time. At this point, it’s about trying to secure the best possible lottery odds for New York. The Knicks are just 11-47 on the season, though they did enter the All-Star break on a high. New York picked up a 106-91 win over the Hawks, which snapped the team’s 18-game losing streak. Still, the Knicks have the worst record in the Eastern Conference and the second-worst mark in the league behind Phoenix.
The Timberwolves aren’t quite out of the playoff race in the West, but they’re running out of time. Minnesota is 27-30 on the year, which puts them 4 games behind the L.A. Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Wolves are also just 11th in the West, so they’ll have to leapfrog a few teams if they want to climb into the playoff picture by season’s end.
The following odds are courtesy of our live odds feed:
|2019 ATS Home||16-13-0||9-16-2|
|2019 ATS Away||13-15-0||15-15-1|
|2019 O/U Home||15-12-2||11-16-0|
|2019 O/U Away||14-14-0||17-14-0|
The Knicks have spent the vast majority of the season losing games, but they also managed to swing a franchise-altering trade. Kristaps Porzingis, who has yet to play this season after suffering an ACL tear about a year ago, was shockingly traded to the Dallas Mavericks a few days ahead of the deadline earlier this month. Porzingis was apparently wary of continuing his career with the Knicks, and the Knicks had some skepticism regarding Porzingis’ health. So, New York shipped him out of town.
The prize piece in the trade for the Knicks was young point guard Dennis Smith Jr. Smith struggled to fit in in Dallas next to star rookie Luka Doncic, so Dallas was already looking to move DSJ out of town. Smith has looked up-and-down through his 7 games with New York. The second-year guard is averaging 17 points along with 6 assists and just under 3 rebounds per game, but he has also connected on just 26.9 percent of his looks from 3-point range.
Smith’s athleticism and upside are obviously good traits, but if he’s going to struggle with his shot then his development will be hampered. The Knicks are hopeful that his rickety shooting is just a blip on the radar. New York has been in desperate search of a franchise point guard for years, so they’re optimistic that Smith will be the answer to their prayers.
The Knicks are hoping to get the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, which would give them the chance to draft Duke phenom Zion Williamson. They need Zion as much as anybody considering how awful they have been in just about every facet of the game this season. New York ranks 27th in defensive rating and 28th in offensive rating. They’re also 26th in rebound rate as a team and they have shot 33.6 percent as a team from long distance, which is the second-worst percentage in the league this season.
The Timberwolves snapped a 14-year playoff drought last season when they snuck into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. This season has not been as kind, however. The year started inauspiciously when Jimmy Butler told the team he wanted a trade about a week before training camp. That sent the team into chaos, and it clearly affected the way some of the young players started the campaign.
Butler was ultimately traded to the 76ers in November, but Minnesota slogged its way to a brutal 4-9 start to the year. Head coach Tom Thibodeau wound up getting fired just after Christmas, and the team replaced him on an interim basis with Ryan Saunders. Saunders has gone 8-9 in Thibodeau’s place, so the Timberwolves haven’t been able to make up much ground in the playoff race.
The team has dealt with injuries to its entire point guard rotation, as Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones each have missed substantial time of late. That has left Karl-Anthony Towns to do most of the heavy lifting. After ceding some shots to Butler last season, Towns has taken charge of the offense now that Butler has left the team. Towns shot just 14.3 times per game last season, a number that has risen to 16.4 so far this year.
However, Towns was officially listed as questionable by the Wolves after getting into a car accident on his way to the airport on Thursday. Towns was reportedly able to catch a commercial flight to New York, but the Wolves are monitoring his condition ahead of the game. If he’s out, Gorgui Dieng would see a bunch of additional burn in his place as the presumptive starting center. Rose, Teague and Andrew Wiggins would assume more offensive responsibility, as well.
Towns’ downgrade to questionable for tonight puts this pick in peril. Minnesota looked like an easy pick as a 5-point favorite tonight against the downtrodden Knicks, but if the Wolves are going to be without their best player, the spread gets a little more dicey.
I still think the Wolves’ sheer talent advantage makes them the pick at -5 even if Towns is out. Minnesota can still start a respectable center in Dieng, while Dario Saric figures to see extra playing time at the center spot, as well. This really has more to do with the Knicks’ ineptitude than anything else. New York has looked like the worst team in the league this season, so I still believe they are fully capable of losing to a short-handed Minnesota team by at least 6 points.
Here’s hoping Towns plays tonight. Even if he’s out, though, I think the bet here is Minnesota to cover the spread.
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