Knicks-Timberwolves Preview

The New York Knicks had trouble defending a young point guard in

their last game.

Now they’ll be up against a passing wizard.

Ricky Rubio has totaled 25 assists in his last two games for the

short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves heading into Friday night’s

home matchup with the Knicks.

New York (31-16) had a five-game win streak snapped with

Wednesday’s 106-96 loss at Washington. The Knicks had trouble

defending John Wall on the pick-and-roll, with the Wizards guard

finishing with 21 points and nine assists.

“It all works hand in hand,” coach Mike Woodson said. “Perimeter

guys have to do their job, our bigs have to do their job. That’s

how you become a good defensive team and you win.”

The Knicks now seek a split of this two-game trip and fourth

straight win over Minnesota (18-28), which has numerous injured

players unavailable in Kevin Love (hand), Chase Budinger (knee) and

Brandon Roy (knee).

Rubio is not among them. The flashy second-year Spanish guard is

not the scorer that Wall is, but he’s a better passer as evidenced

by how he has matched the best two-game assist total of his young

career.

His passing skills haven’t translated to victories, with the

Timberwolves losing eight of nine. Still, the club likes what it

has seen from Rubio this week in a 14-assist performance against

Portland rookie Damian Lillard and an 11-assist effort versus San

Antonio’s Tony Parker.

“He’s been playing really well lately,” center Greg Stiemsma

said. “His pace of the game, his playcalling, everything is

elevated. It’s fun to see, fun to be a part of.”

Adding to Minnesota’s lengthy injury list is forward Andrei

Kirilenko, who is doubtful after he missed Wednesday’s 104-94 loss

to the Spurs with a bruised right quadriceps.

The Wolves aren’t making excuses.

“We can’t worry about who is not here,” coach Rick Adelman said.

“We have to play with the people we have.”

The Knicks don’t want to overlook Minnesota, which fell 94-91 in

New York on Dec. 23.

“Any team can beat you in this league if you’re not mentally and

physically ready to play,” Woodson said.

Carmelo Anthony scored 33 in the first meeting and his teams

have won 15 of their last 16 games against Minnesota, including all

seven visits to the Target Center – where he has not played since

joining New York.

It has been more than two seasons since Amare Stoudemire last

faced the Wolves on Dec. 6, 2010. Stoudemire has been finding a

rhythm off the bench, averaging 18.4 points on 67.6 percent

shooting over his last seven games.

Knicks center Tyson Chandler had his streak of 20-rebound games

end at three after he grabbed 13 against the Wizards. Emerging

Wolves center Nikola Pekovic has totaled 42 points and 30 rebounds

in his last two matchups against Chandler and New York.

The Knicks are second in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 38.4

percent but went 6 for 26 (23.1) in the first meeting for their

third-worst mark of the season. Minnesota is last in the league at

30.2 percent.