MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks flew from New York to snowy Minnesota thinking they might have an easier opening game to their four-game road trip with the number of Timberwolves players out because of COVID-19 at nine.
But the Wolves are getting healthier in time for Tuesday’s Target Center showdown vs. the Knicks.
After missing their entire starting lineup when they beat the Celtics Monday at home, they have several key players who cleared COVID-19 protocols Tuesday thanks to the NBA’s new measuring stick of determining a return to action.
The Wolves cleared out of protocols eight players, including key cogs Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell and Patrick Beverley.
But because of conditioning issues, the Knicks may only see last year’s rookie-of-the-year runner-up Edwards and Beverley, a key addition to their newfound success (16-17). The Wolves have a better record than the Knicks (15-18) and are in playoff position, in eight place.
Edwards, Beverly and Taurean Prince were all listed as questionable. Towns and Russell won’t play, the Wolves said.
Meanwhile, the Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.
McBride was spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19 when he played the entire second half in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation.
In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence. When McBride got sidelined and Derrick Rose needed surgery, Kemba Walker was resurrected by Tom Thibodeau and just won Eastern Conference Player of the Week as their new starting point guard.
Though Thibodeau has reservations about Walker, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double that Walker is playing “way more aggressive.”
Minnesota’s COVID-19 reversals are due to new NBA guidelines on return to action. A six-day quarantine is in place instead of 10 days after which a player can still test positive but can be cleared if his viral count is higher than 35 — which mean’s he’s no longer contagious, according to medical experts who have consulted with the NBA.
The Knicks still have two players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims. Immanuel Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning. The duo should be available for Minnesota and McBride was listed as “available” on the the latest injury report, though his spot in the rotation is undetermined.
This match is intriguing beyond Thibodeau’s first return to Minnesota before a full house. When the Knicks were upset here last season, 102-101, Edwards mocked RJ Barrett, saying the Wolves were hoping he’d take the final shot in a game decided by a final possession. Julius Randle took it instead — a step-back jumper that missed.