With preseason action nearing a close, the new look Timberwolves expect to be contenders this year. How do they match up with the Rockets this season?
With the regular season a mere 5 days away, all 30 teams are set to being the long grind that is the NBA season. New Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has already stated his expectations for the upcoming season.
And just exactly what are those expectations you ask? Conference finals.
However, in order to make it that far, the Rockets face the most loaded Western conference in recent memory.
Among those teams looking to make some noise are the young and newly constructed Minnesota Timberwolves. While they already had a nice young core, the T-Wolves went even further this offseason. Enter Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, and Taj Gibson just to name a few.
With those names in mind, lets take a look at the matchup possibilities and see who has an edge in this series.
Houston Rockets projected starting lineup
PG: Chris Paul
SG: James Harden
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Ryan Anderson
C: Clint Capela
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Andrew Wiggins
SF: Jimmy Butler
PF: Taj Gibson
While the T-Wolves look to be true contenders this season, they have always been a tough team to beat. Yet the issue has always been finishing the game for them. In reality, the Wolves should have been a playoff team last year. However, their inability to protect a lead in the fourth quarter ended up dooming them most of last season.
Meanwhile, the Rockets are coming off a successful season under Mike D’Antoni at the helm. James Harden received some help this offseason in the form of Chris Paul, and both have looked solid in the preseason so far. Both teams have loaded up and are ready to go at it.
Both squads have stars, and an all around cast to support those stars in crunch time. In the backcourt, it will be Harden and CP3 vs Teague and Wiggins. Both CP3 and Teague are great all around point guards and both play excellent defense. James Harden is the more skilled offensive shooting guard and is the better slasher to the rim. Both Harden and Wiggins struggle on defense so it’ll be interesting to see which of the two made any defensive improvements. With all that said, Harden earns the advantage with his crafty offense and ability to patrol the court with excellent vision. CP3 earns a slight advantage as well, because he is a better shooter and a work horse on defense.
Backcourt Advantage: Houston
In the frontcourt is where the matchup gets interesting. Both teams have shot makers and defenders, however, it’s the rebound and blocks department that should concern the Rockets. Towns and Capela are excellent rim protectors, with Towns averaging slightly more blocks than Clint. 1.3 blocks for KAT and 1.2 for Capela last season. KAT is the better offensive player. He can score in the paint, and can also stretch the floor. Towns shot around 37 percent from the perimeter last season. On top of that, KAT averaged around 12 rebounds a game while Capela hovered in the 8 range. So, advantage Towns at center.
Next up is the matchup between Gibson and Anderson. These two should be a bit familiar with each other. Just last season they met in the first round of the playoffs when Gibson was a member of the OKC Thunder. This matchup is pretty even. Anderson is the better offensive weapon at the power forward, yet Gibson is the better defender and rebounder. But, if Anderson improves his defense and rebounding like he said he wants to, combined with a hot hand on offense, this Rockets team will be tough to beat. Regardless, this one is even to me.
Finally, we come to Butler vs Ariza. No doubt, Trevor Ariza is a fine player. However, that other guy, Jimmy Butler? He’s pretty good at “getting buckets” on top of being one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. I’ll spare Ariza on this one simply because he is the Rockets best wing defender, and an excellent three-point shooter in his own right. But, this matchup will probably favor Butler more. Moderate advantage, Jimmy Butler.
Frontcourt advantage: Minnesota
Continuing on to the benches.
Rockets main bench unit
T-Wolves main bench unit
Both teams made some good signings to strengthen their respective benches. The Rockets went for more defense, while the Wolves added more capable scorers and veterans. Certainly the experience factor will play a role in this matchup. The Rockets posses the more experienced bench in this case. Reigning sixth-man of the year Gordon vs former winner Jamal Crawford will be loads of fun to watch. Former Rocket Brooks vs CP3 or Harden, and the talented Dieng being physical with veteran big man Nene. Not to mention, the Wolves still have to deal with Mbah a Moute and Tucker. Within the Rockets second unit there is a combo of great offense and solid defense. Most of our bench is capable of shooting threes, big man who can rebound and protect the paint, and can lock down the perimeter and be a pest for any team.
The bottom line here is this. The Rockets are still a deeper team. While the Wolves have compiled some excellent pieces, they have to prove they are over the defensive slumps that killed them in the latter stages of a game last season. Both squads will have to make it work in the beginning, however, I believe the Rockets are more prepared to take off and succeed.
Bench Advantage: Houston, by a slight margin
Coaching wise, these two teams are led at the helm by some of the best. The Wolves have defensive guru Tom Thibodeau and the Rockets have offensive mad scientist Mike D’Antoni. Although to Thibodeau’s credit, he is an underrated offensive coach. It should be a fun series with lots of points and as much defense as one can get in the modern NBA.
Season Series Predictions
The Rockets and Wolves will go at it four times this season. The first game will be January 18th at the Toyota Center. This series will be physical, and the outcomes will be determined by who’s pace the game is played at.
I predict a series split, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.