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A Year Later, Wolves Return to Mexico City

The Timberwolves play the Rockets in Mexico City tonight, almost a year after their first visit was canceled due to smoke in the arena. What should we expect?

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Global Games in Mexico City were a mess last season. The Timberwolves weren't able to play the San Antonio Spurs due to an arena filled with smoke, caused by a short circuit in a generator room inside of Mexico City Arena. The experiment turned sour on the NBA, but it wasn't enough to deter a second attempt at the game.

A year later, the Wolves return to the Mexico City stage with a different cast. Kevin Love and Rick Adelman are both gone and Ricky Rubio won't take the court either, due to a severely sprained left ankle that should keep him on the shelf for at least a month (he'll be on crutches for the next 10-14 days as the swelling subsides and re-evaluated afterwards, but according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports he could miss 7-8 weeks).

Instead, the Wolves will introduce two explosive, yet raw, 19-year-olds as a part of their starting five on Wednesday night. Rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine will most likely join holdovers Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, as well as newcomer Thad Young, in a starting lineup that should have bright moments and most certainly will have it's fair share of rookie mistakes and stagnant (Rubio-less) offensive possessions.

The Rockets are a tough test for any NBA team, and Rubio's absence forces LaVine from a garbage time role as the third point guard into a learn-on-the-fly role in the starting lineup. It could be a rough night for the UCLA rookie in his second NBA start, and the entire offense for that matter, given the fact that Houston is allowing 90.9 points per game (2nd best in the NBA behind the Grizzlies) and holding opponents to a league-low 40.7% shooting.

Without Rubio the game loses some of its appeal, but the Wolves can still produce intriguing lineups mixed with promising first and second-year players and proven veterans, and Houston still has two headliners in James Harden and Dwight Howard. Two things to watch for tonight: 1.) Andrew Wiggins should defend Harden in this game. Can he slow down The Beard? 2.) Pekovic vs. Howard in the paint. Who will get the other in foul trouble first?

While the Wolves aim to grab a signature win without their leader running the point, defeating the Rockets on the road (allegedly a home game) won't be easy. Houston is 6-1 this season and only the Grizzlies and Raptors (7-1) have better records in the league. They're coming off their first loss to the Warriors (5-2) on Saturday but that was without Howard, who missed the game due to flu-like symptoms, and he appears set to play in Mexico City.

The Rockets are one of the best teams in the league right now. If the Wolves want to pull off the upset it will require excellent play from their point guards -- LaVine and Mo Williams -- as well big efforts from core veterans like Martin, Pekovic, Young, and Brewer. Gorgui Dieng, along with Shabazz Muhammad or Anthony Bennett (knee soreness), would probably have to show up on the glass and in the scoring column in a large way too.

What Should We Expect?

  • A bevy of 3-pointers. Houston launches the most 3-pointers per game in the NBA (32.9). They try to bury teams with the long ball and make a league-high 13.0 per game. The Wolves shoot the least amount of 3-pointers per game in the league (14.2 -- also known as #3gate).
  • An interesting battle between Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale. Former front-office comrades and lifelong friends now face each other as coaches, as Jerry Zgoda wrote here.
  • James Harden buckets. He's third in the league in scoring at 25.4 points per game and has been to the free throw line a league-high 76 times in 7 games (he's made 69 of those attempts). That's the most makes and attempts in the league. So yeah, Fear the Beard.

  • A strong Houston offense. The Rockets are 10th in offensive efficiency (105.1) and fourth in True Shooting Percentage (57.4%).
  • A battle on the offensive boards. The Wolves and Rockets are tied for second (29.1) in offensive rebound rate.
  • A stout Rockets defense. As I noted above, Houston is allowing 90.9 points per game and holding opponents to a league-low 40.7% shooting. In contrast, the Wolves are allowing 101.2 points per game and stand 29th in Opponent Field Goal Percentage (48.1%).

Recommended Reading:

Andrew Wiggins: Reluctantly in the Spotlight

This was a guest feature by Will Eisenberg over at Punch-Drunk Wolves. It was a good read, check it out.

Music: "Alive" by Kid Cudi

I've always thought the Wolves should play this song at Target Center. Maybe it's just me.