This is what it looks like when the playing field is leveled.
The Knicks walked into Minnesota’s Target Center winners of six of their last seven but flew back home recipients of a reality check after falling 117-100 to a surging Timberwolves team on Monday.
Both the Knicks and Wolves rank in the NBA’s top third in defense and rebounding, but Minnesota (10-3) has had a more difficult Western Conference schedule, having defeated the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics, as well as both the Pelicans and Warriors twice.
Add the Knicks to that list.
New York was riding a three-game winning streak but its wins in recent weeks came against non-playoff or lesser competition. The Knicks beat the Charlotte Hornets twice, and beat the San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers in James Harden’s season debut at Madison Square Garden.
None of those teams come close to Minnesota, which has evolved into a legitimate contender this season.
Jalen Brunson finished with a game-high 25 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field and three-of-six shooting from downtown, but Julius Randle mustered just 21 points on 6-of-16 shooting and missed five of his six attempts from downtown. RJ Barrett got into early foul trouble and shot just 4-of-13 from the floor in 22 minutes, and Immanuel Quickley scored 15 points off the bench, but missed six of his seven attempts from three-point range and shot just 4-of-14 from the field.
Quentin Grimes returned from a wrist sprain on his left, non-shooting hand and missed all six of his attempts from downtown.
The Knicks shot just 34.8 percent from the field and 23.7 percent from downtown.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves connected on 51 percent of their field goal attempts, led by Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, who combined for 43 points on the night.
The Knicks could not get a hold of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who thrived in extended minutes after starter Jaden McDaniels went down with an ankle injury. Alexander-Walker shot 50 percent from downtown and hit three timely treys. The Wolves outscored the Knicks by 15 in his 33 minutes on the floor.
Randle recorded 14 rebounds but struggled to make plays for his teammates and logged just one assist on the night. And after hitting seven threes against the Hornets, Donte DiVincenzo — who was moved to the bench with Grimes’ return — shots just one-of-six from downtown.
This is the difference between teams like the Hornets and teams like the Wolves.
The last time Randle saw the Wolves, he scored a career-high 57 points, but that was a game Rudy Gobert missed due to injury. Randle hung 31 on Minnesota in his previous outing, but Towns sat that game, as well.
The Knicks All-Star struggled to create plays against the length of the Wolves front court — and when he did, his three-point shooters failed to convert on decent looks.
Josh Hart also shot 0-of-2 from downtown and just two-of-six from the field in 24 minutes on Monday.
The Knicks led, 2-0, at the beginning of the first quarter and never led again for the remainder of the game. They broke off a 12-4 run in the fourth quarter but trailed by as many as 22 and couldn’t string together enough stops to halt Minnesota’s three-point barrage.
Mitchell Robinson finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, out-rebounding Wolves center Rudy Gobert, who made all seven of his shots for 16 points on the night.
The Knicks attempted to intentionally foul Gobert, a poor free throw shooter, at the 5:53 mark in the fourth quarter when they cut the lead down to 13, but the tactic didn’t work.
The Knicks now have three days off in between games before hosting the Miami Heat in their first game after Thanksgiving on Friday. Two nights after, they will host Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns, who are without Bradley Beal and his ailing back.
After those two games, the Knicks will host Charlotte again, then welcome the Detroit Pistons before a trip to Toronto to play the Raptors.