The Rockets were no match for the Timberwolves on Friday night.
WHO: Minnesota 111, Rockets 98.
WHAT: The Rockets currently sit 7th in the West at 17-14 overall. They lost at home for just the fourth time in 15 games this season. Rockets-Wolves is blossoming into a pretty intriguing rivalry – in its earliest stages, of course – and now the Wolves are creeping up as a threat for a playoff berth. Minnesota is 15-16 overall and owns a 3-1 series record against Houston so far. The Rockets are three games behind fourth-place Dallas and 5-5 in their last 10 games.
WHAT HAPPENED?: This was a setback in a way Rockets fans loathe. After seeing such steady progress defensively, particularly in protecting the rim, Houston let Minnesota eat it up in the paint. The Wolves hit 24 of 33 shots at the rim (72 percent) and neither Samuel Dalembert nor Jordan Hill was a match for Wolves obscure center Nikola Pekovic, who scored a career-high 30 points on 13 of 20 shooting. Dalembert’s effort was particularly disappointing as he is developing a bad habit of great inconsistency as a Rocket. He had just six points, four rebounds and one block in 20 minutes. He also had four fouls. Pekovic (who also had 12 rebounds) and Kevin Love (33 points, 17 rebounds) completely manhandled the Rockets’ Dalembert and Luis Scola, respectively. The Wolves shot 55 percent from the field and absolutely embarrassed Houston on the boards, 44-26. There’s the story of the game, folks.
WHERE’S SCOLA?: If we want to scold Kevin Martin for his lethargic play this season, we have to start doing the same for Luis Scola. In the last six games, Scola is averaging 12.7 points on just 11.8 field goal attempts per game. He’s averaging just 5.7 rebounds in those six games, but especially worrisome? Just 11 free throw attempts total, not even two per game. We have to be fair. When Scola is not scoring, he’s not helping. He’s a post version of Martin. He’s simply not getting touches, and him getting shots and opportunities only opens things up for Martin and Kyle Lowry, both of whom are having down years offensively. Before coach Kevin McHale concerns himself with getting Martin better looks, he’s got to make Scola more of a priority. It’s a domino effect.
CHANDLER ON THE RISE: Enough speaking of those who are on the downslide. Let’s take a look at a rising performer in rookie small forward Chandler Parsons. Over the last nine games, Parsons is averaging 9.4 points and becoming more than just the glue guy and defensive specialist that he was earlier this season. He’s becoming a much bigger part of the offense, averaging 11.8 field goal attempts the last four games (yes, the exact number as Scola). He’s coming off a stellar performance against the Wolves Friday, when he amassed 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting in 40 minutes. Truly a diamond in the rough type of find for the Rockets.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: With the West such a tight race, the Rockets have to take advantage of chances, and that means beating the teams they should beat. They’ve lost to the likes of the Wolves (three times), the Warriors and the Bucks over the last month. They still don’t really have an identity, not with Martin and Scola struggling badly and with Lowry having a poor shooting year. It’s clear their defensive woes are not totally solved, and the offense isn’t exactly headed in the right direction. Simply put, this team needs more punch, specifically offensively where it doesn’t get to the free throw line and doesn’t exactly light it up from 3. For every big win against the likes of the Thunder, there are too many clunkers against teams floating in mediocrity, and if the Rockets want to be more than that, then they need to tighten things up sooner than later.