The Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves come into the NBA playoffs in very different positions. Literally speaking they sit on opposite ends of the playoff spectrum, the Rockets coming in as the best team in the NBA while the Timberwolves had to scratch their way into the very bottom of the playoffs.
2018 NBA Playoffs: (1) Houston Rockets vs (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
However, they are also coming into the playoffs in different places mentally. The Timberwolves successfully halted a fourteen-year playoff drought with the help of their young talent who still have years to experience playoff moments and get better. The Rockets, meanwhile, are on the precipice of watching their perfect season fall into darkness with just one poor playoff series.
The only thing better than watching a team play great basketball is to watch them lose to a team they aren’t supposed to.
Every great team has had to fight through this reality. Upsets are positives and are the headline for an entire month of college basketball. Watching the Rockets fall to the Timberwolves would be a fantastic thing to witness for many but upsets in the NBA are unlikely and one is just as unlikely in this series.
The Rockets are the best team in basketball for a reason and although Luc Mbah a Moute may be out for the series, the Rockets will likely survive without him.
The main problem is that the Timberwolves will have trouble ever stopping the Rockets. Houston played them four times this season and did not once score fewer than 116 points while winning all four games. Their main weapon was the pick and roll which they used with frequent success on the T-wolves.
Jimmy Butler will attempt to slow down James Harden in the ISO situations the Rockets enjoy so much but they will likely do all they can to get Butler off of either Harden or Chris Paul. Butler is a good enough defender to fight over screens but when three or four are thrown at him in a row he will likely cede the defensive possession to a teammate.
Also, Minnesota’s second-best defender, Taj Gibson, plays a strange position to play against the Rockets. He will likely have to chase after PJ Tucker or even Trevor Ariza while being at the three-point line constantly when Ryan Anderson comes off the bench. Gibson is best used when he can hang around the paint and be a bruiser. It will be a tough task for him to hang with the rangy Rockets “bigs”.
Another strong suit for Minnesota is obviously their offensively brilliant center, Karl-Anthony Towns. He will no doubt get the best of Clint Capela at times but Capela has shown time and again that he is a strong defender, especially in the post. Even Towns own range from long distance should not bother Capela much as he is constantly tasked with defending guards in the Rockets defensive system.
Butler and Wiggins may be the two most important players in this game with the latter being most important. The Rockets will likely focus much more of their defensive attention to Butler and KAT than they do Wiggins, leaving Wiggins open to potentially have solid games. He was able to produce within his role in the final game of the season but has shown little else throughout the course of the season to expect him to produce big numbers.
The final nail in the coffin for the Timberwolves may be their bench. Tom Thibodeau has the unusual propensity of playing Tyus Jones, Derrick Rose, and Jamal Crawford all at the same time. That lineup has a negative 3.3 net rating according to NBA.com and will definitely have trouble scoring on the much longer Rockets second unit.
When the Rockets came and played the Clippers for the second time the word “confident” was thrown around about a half a dozen times. They know what kind of team they are and expect to be, although they have every reason to feel nervous about this particular playoff run, don’t expect them to fall on their faces just yet. Even if you may be hoping they do.
Prediction: Rockets in 4
- April 15th, 9pm ET in Houston on TNT
- April 18th, 9:30pm ET in Houston on TNT
- April 21st, 7:30pm ET in Minnesota on ESPN
- April 23rd 8pm ET in Minnesota on TNT
- *April 25th TBD in Houston
- *April 27th TBD in Minnesota
- *April 29th TBD in Houston
(* if necessary)