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Timberwolves look to stay defensive vs. Knicks

MINNEAPOLIS -- After winning their third straight game, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 11 games above .500 for the first time in a long time.

Minnesota (27-16) enters Friday's game with the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, and Timberwolves fans are taking note. Wednesday's win over Oklahoma City was a sellout, Minnesota's fifth in a row at Target Center.

Now the Wolves are hoping for another packed building Friday -- but, more importantly, another win.

If Minnesota's defense keeps playing the way it has as of late, another win could be in the cards as the Wolves host the New York Knicks.

It's now been seven straight games that Tom Thibodeau's team has held opponents under 100 points and it has helped the Wolves get 11 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2003-04 season.

The Knicks are averaging 103.6 points per game, which ranks in the bottom half of the NBA.

"Now we're taking pride in our defense," Minnesota's Jimmy Butler told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "We're taking it personal with matchups. I like to see that."

While the Wolves have reeled off three straight wins, the Knicks have lost four of their last five games prior to Friday's contest. New York's most recent loss was a tough 122-119 double-overtime defeat against Chicago in which Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen scored 33 points and hit eight 3-pointers.

"Just another tough loss. It's not a lot to say really," Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis told the New York Daily News. "We just got to keep going and learning."

New York will have a trio of scorers on Minnesota's roster to try and stop on Friday as Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins all pose a scoring threat.

Just as importantly, though, is the commitment to defense Minnesota's players have given. While the defense might not have been up to Thibodeau's standards early in the year, it has tightened up. That's resulted in more wins -- and a bit more fun up and down the Timberwolves' roster.

"The young guys are smiling every day," Wolves forward Taj Gibson told the Star Tribune. "They know they're in a good space and the hard work is coming around, but it all comes from defense and everybody understands that."

In Wednesday's game to the Bulls, New York guard Jarrett Jack tallied a triple-double of 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Jack's second career triple-double, though, to help the Knicks put together two straight wins.

"A triple-double is cool, but we lost," Jack told the Daily News. "That's just the way I look at things. I look at things in terms of wins and losses."

The Knicks (19-22) continue to be led on offense by Porzingis but will need role players like Jack to continue to step up. That includes Friday's tilt with Minnesota, which will see the return of former Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley. The journeyman Beasley is averaging 12.4 points per game as one of five Knicks players averaging in double-figures.

Minnesota, meanwhile, continues to receive balanced scoring. The Timberwolves got point guard Jeff Teague back on Wednesday against the Thunder, giving Thibodeau's roster even more depth as the second half the season continues.

Updated January 11, 2018

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