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Houston Rockets Game Day Preview: T-Wolves arrive hoping to play spoiler

By Tamberlyn Richardson
Jan 13, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) drives the ball during the fourth quarter as Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) defends at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 13, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) drives the ball during the fourth quarter as Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) defends at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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On the surface this should be an automatic W in the win column, but the Houston Rockets haven’t done anything easy and the T-Wolves have been playing spoiler post All-Star break.

Tonight marks the second meeting between the Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets this season. The home town Rockets returned from a 5 game Eastern road trip seemingly playing better. But just like the regular season they failed to capitalize on a Los Angeles Clippers team who played the night prior.

I know it sounds like a broken record, but with Memphis decimated by injury and the Blazers suddenly falling back to earth now is the time to be bringing it nightly via focus and effort. News the team chose to deal with the Clippers loss with yet another “players only” meeting. I seem to recall Kevin McHale early this season saying all we’ve done is talk, it’s time for action.

Since I can’t be fired by the Rockets I think I’ll reiterate the ex coaches sentiments and simply say we are tired of all the talk… it’s time for actions.

That said this match has all the makings for a trap game and given how the T-Wolves have been basking confidently post All-Star break that saw Zach LaVine win MVP of the BBVA Rising Stars as well as the Slam Dunk Competition while rookie Karl-Anthony Towns won the Skills Challenge and Andrew Wiggins could easily have won the MVP if the International side had won the game. Suffice to say these Wolves are extremely confident and play an exciting brand of basketball.  I called for them as my dark horses this season, and they weren’t quite ready it’s obvious they aren’t far off.

The Details

Venue: Toyota Center, Houston TX,

Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 PM CT

TV: NBA League Pass, ROOT and FS North

Radio: 790 AM and 830 WCCO

Recent History:

The Rockets swept the Wolves last season, but have only played once this year with tonight and one more game on tap.

Walking Wounded:

Wolves:

  • Nikola Pekovic is out indefinitely with an Achilles injury
  • Kevin Garnett,  his right knee has kept him out of the line-up since January 20th and it’s thought won’t play again this season

Rockets:

  • Sam Dekker remains out with his back issues, I’m thinking it’s doubtful he plays again this season unless the Rockets get numerically eliminated from the post season

Projected Starters:

Wolves: Ricky RubioZach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins,   Karl-Anthony Towns,  Gorgui Dieng

Rockets: Patrick Beverley, James HardenTrevor Ariza, Donatas MotiejunasDwight Howard

Key Reserves:

Wolves:Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja BjelicaTayshaun Prince, Tyus Jones

Rockets: Corey BrewerClint Capela, Jason TerryMichael BeasleyK.J. McDaniels, Montrezl Harrell

Key Match-up:

There are many intriguing pairings to chose from between Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins vs James Harden and current ROY candidate (and front runner) Karl Anthony-Towns versus either of Dwight Howard or Clint Capela.

Having watched a ton of the Wolves this season (they and the Magic are my guilty pleasures of NBA League Pass) there is a real calmness and maturity from both youngsters. Neither needs to rush their game or take unnecessary shots as they are already proving to be team first guys.

These two teams are at very different stages; the Rockets want to win now and have made the moves this past summer to do so (albeit without showcasing the results). Whereas the Wolves have been building their youthful core through top picks in the draft and adding depth via veteran talent to help build the core. The young Wolves look well positioned to continue that growth and should be a competitive factor in the NBA very soon and for an extended period. In fact I bet the entire Western Conference is well aware another top 3 draft pick could land in Minnesota this summer and with the inevitable one or two veterans added via free agency or trade this team is well poised to be “the next GSW or OKC”.

Wolves at Rockets Mar 18
Wolves at Rockets Mar 18

Keys to Winning:

Play the team not the record: Sure might seem like this is an easy victory, but the Thunder found out last week that isn’t the case.

Post All-Star Offense on fire: I called for this coming out of the All-Star weekend, but the Thunder have delivered on that prediction in spades. Not only are the youthful talents of Wiggins, Towns and LaVine performing, but the second rookie Tyus Jones is getting valuable minutes while Muhammad and Dieng have raised their game another level.

Continue to build on fundamentals: I don’t care how many “player only” meetings this team undertakes, the bottom line is the Rockets can only win by their effort on the court.

More from Space City Scoop

The Pick:

The odds makers favor the Rockets by 8.5 points with an over-under of 224.5 points. Interestingly the action is evenly split on both squads which either speaks to how little people trust the Rockets or how much the Wolves have improved.

Prediction: While the Rockets have been playing better of late and closing games out with more intensity what has to still be proven is their ability to win the games they should (revisit Denver and Brooklyn if you doubt me). Couple that with the fact the Wolves have some big wins on the road this season and something tells me this could be a dog fight or should I say wolf fight.

Let’s assume the player’s only meeting results in a focused first quarter and ends with a win, though I won’t concede the spread.

Rockets by 3

For more exciting news and stories on the Minnesota Timberwolves visit our affiliate FanSided site: Dunking With Wolves

Next: Wolves Team Preview - Ascending Youth

Next: East trip sparks Rockets

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