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.
The Associated Press News Service
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