Talk is cheap, and the Houston Rockets know it’s time to close their mouths and let their actions speak. To wit, the Rockets enter tonight needing a win versus the young Timberwolves who’ve been playing spoiler of late.
If the Houston Rockets didn’t understand or play with desperation last week they appear to understand now, after losing a pivotal game to Dallas last week. The fact they followed that up with a blow-out loss to the Suns speaks to how frustrating this team has been all season. The latter came with the Rockets being booed off their home court. Apparently they got the message as they won yesterday even if it was the lowly Lakers. Now with just two games remaining the Rockets have to win out versus Minnesota and Sacramento. Even that won’t help get them into the post season unless the Jazz lose one of their final two games.
Helping the cause will be the fact the Jazz play Dallas (also tonight) who are equally motivated to win. Utah’s final game would normally be considered an easy victory given it’s the 16 win Lakers. But the fact that game comes on the road at the Staples Center in one Kobe Bean Bryant’s final game of his career may also play a factor. I wouldn’t count out the Black Mamba putting on an inspired performance for his curtain call as a thank you to a crowd likely to feature copious celebrities who’ll hope for one last highlight reel performance. It just feels inevitable Bryant will refuse to say goodbye without a fight to the final second.
Sad isn’t it – – that I’m opining on another team’s possibility of losing so the Rockets can make the post season. Yet that’s the reality of this seasons under achieving Rockets squad whose chemistry resembles a bad science experiment.
That said, there are at least two guaranteed games remaining so let’s take a look at tonight’s game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Venue: Target Center, Minnesota, Minneapolis
Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 PM CT
TV: NBA League Pass, ROOT and FS North
Radio: 790 AM and 830 WCCO
The Rockets swept the Wolves last season, and hold a 2-0 record in their two previous games this season.
- 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
- Montrezl Harrell – though is suspension had been served as of yesterday he was not utilized in the Lakers game. With Bickerstaff giving Michael Beasley, Clint Capela and K.J. McDaniels increased minutes of late it’s unlikely we’ll see him tonight either.
- Sam Dekker – back surgery November 20 , will be out 3 months
There are many intriguing pairings to chose from between reigning 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.
Don’t let the above chart fool you as the Timberwolves can play a high paced offensive game with the best teams (Golden State learned that the hard way) and the above seasonal defensive data isn’t indicative of how they are playing of late.
Keys To Winning:
Don’t Play Down to Competition: Like the game versus the Lakers this is another situation where the Rockets must play the team on the floor not the one in the record books. They can’t afford to treat this game the same way they did the Suns. Suffice to say if they do their season will be if not technically over at a minimum it will all but put the last nail in their coffin.
Lead With Defense: On the season the T-Wolves rank 27th in defense, but have improved to the middle of the pack (13th) in April. To do this they’ve eased up on what was their better suit of offense. That said the Rockets need to be wary as just like the Warriors discovered they are more than capable of playing a high paced offensive dominant game and still winning.
Just Win: Let’s face it there is no other option. A loss basically ends the Rockets season and even a win guarantees nothing. They need to play with pride because the fans surely deserve that. News management will complete a thorough examination this summer also means the players need realize likely Harden and Capela are probably the only untouchables, and I could make an argument even they aren’t safe.
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The odds makers favor the Rockets by 3.0 points with an over-under of 216.5 points with heavy early action on the Rockets. The fact the last time these two teams played Houston was favored by 8.5 points may speak to how unreliable the Rockets are or it may simply be the road factor. Either way, it’s probably safe to assume even the odds makers don’t know which Rockets squad will show up on any given night.
Prediction: 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”.
To that end, the Timberwolves have been playing spoiler of late serving up a loss (and in convincing fashion) to the Golden State Warriors. Following that win they’ve gone on a mini win streak with successive victories over the Kings and the Blazers. For a team who’ve won just 28 times they seem to be intent on ending the season on a high note. This game has all the classic signs for a trap game, so we’ll have to see if the ever consistently inconsistent Rockets have learned from their mistakes.
With that I’ll take the Rockets by 3 because they have no choice but to win. The fact I’m only giving them a 3 point advantage however does speak to my concern this team still hasn’t figured it out.
Surely tonight the fans and even the players will keep an eye on the scoreboard as the Jazz and Mavericks will also be playing and a loss by the Jazz could open the door for them – – if they do their job.
For more exciting news and stories on the Minnesota Timberwolves visit our affiliate FanSided site: Dunking With Wolves
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