The Minnesota Timberwolves are on the outside looking in amid a crowded Western Conference playoff race, and their performances in road games can be viewed as a reason.
The next few weeks could be the determining factor if the Timberwolves (27-30) remain in the race.
The Timberwolves are 8-20 on the road, and starting with Friday’s visit to the New York Knicks, they will play 11 of their next 16 games on the road.
Minnesota’s eight road wins are the third-fewest in the West, behind only Dallas and Phoenix. Friday’s visit to the league’s worst home team is the front end of a back-to-back that concludes Saturday in Milwaukee.
The Wolves enter Friday coming off two straight home wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets. They are attempting to win three straight for the fifth time this season.
Minnesota’s last three-game winning streak was Jan. 20-24, but the Timberwolves are 3-6 since. Before the break, they overcame 42 points by James Harden and recorded a 121-111 win over Houston on Feb. 13.
“One of the things over the last month we’ve talked about as a group is that when we hit some adversity or you lose a tough game, something like that, it’s only a lesson if you learn from it,” Minnesota interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “The same thing goes for a win. It’s only something you can build on if you continue to build. We need to use this to propel ourselves and we feel good.”
Jeff Teague scored 27 points, while Karl-Anthony Towns added 25 and nine rebounds before heading to the All-Star game.
Teague is averaging 19.3 points in his last three games on 60.5 percent shooting since returning from a sore left foot, while Towns is averaging 27.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and shooting 63.3 percent in his last six games.
Minnesota could be getting healthier when it returns from the break. Tyus Jones may return from missing 13 games with a sprained left ankle, and Andrew Wiggins could return from missing the last two games with an illness.
“I think we want to come out of the break and go on a run,” Jones told reporters. “I think the team is at a good place mentally. We’re together, and that’s what you need.”
New York enters with 17 straight home losses since an overtime win against Milwaukee on Dec. 1. It is the third-longest home losing streak in NBA history behind only Philadelphia’s 18-game skid from Jan. 17-March 21, 2014 and Dallas’ 19-game skid from Nov. 6, 1993-Jan. 21, 1994.
The Knicks will be attempting to win consecutive games for just the second time this season. New York headed into the break by halting its team-record 18-game losing streak with a 106-91 win at Atlanta on Feb. 14.
“I keep talking about this team’s character,” New York coach David Fizdale said. “It would’ve been very easy for us to check out and get on to wherever we’re going to go, but we were desperate men. Those guys wanted this game really badly, and they came out and showed it.”
Dennis Smith Jr. scored 18 points, while Kadeem Allen and John Jenkins added 14 points apiece. Smith and Allen weren’t on the Knicks when they last won a home game, and each figures to see significant playing time the rest of the season.
Another player the Knicks will be incorporating into their rotation is Emmanuel Mudiay, who is expected to return from missing nearly a month with a left shoulder injury. Mudiay started 32 straight games before getting hurt Jan. 23 against Houston and is averaging a career-high 14.7 points while shooting 45.3 percent.
“Same way I was doing it with Kadeem and Dennis, mixing and matching different guys, and that’s the way I’ll probably get to a place with them,” Fizdale told reporters Wednesday following the team’s first practice out of the All-Star break. “It’s been kind of that 1/8way 3/8 all year with different positions and different situations so we’ll figure it out.”
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