Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (12-26) vs. Houston Rockets (31-9)
Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 7:00 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)
Why: As Grammy-award winner and friend of the site Drake once famously said, the Wolves are “out here looking for revenge.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves welcome back the Houston Rockets tonight for their final match-up at the Target Center this season (the Wolves will play at Houston in February and then the last night of the regular season in April.) If you’re wondering how their first contest with the Rockets went back in December, or if your New Year’s Resolution was to forget all terrible things that occurred back in 2016, let me bring you up to speed:
The Wolves held the league’s second-highest scoring team (114.8) to 81 points in 46 minutes. The only problem? The NBA still uses the traditional 48-minute game format, much to the Wolves’ chagrin. As my guy Tony Porter noted in his game recap that night, the Wolves that night seamlessly blended the combination of poor late-game execution, missed free throws, and nonexistent perimeter defense — three characteristics that have doomed the team all season long.
But enough about the past, let’s focus (optimistically) on the present. The Wolves are currently in the midst of a four-game home stand and are coming off a gritty win against the lowly (and last place in the Western Conference) Dallas Mavericks. After tonight, the Wolves will finish the home stand Friday against the Oklahoma City Russell Westbrooks before heading out next week on a three-game road trip.
The Wolves enter the night in search of only their second winning streak of the season. In addition to leading the league in blown double-digit leads, the Wolves continue to have three players in the top fifteen in terms of minutes played, which is becoming a growing concern both short-term and long-term.
Outside of the Wolves Big Three, the one key bright spot lately has been the play of noted fashion icon and Yeezy-enthusiast Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad had only six games of double-digit scoring prior to Christmas (29 games), and since then has scored in double-figures in six of his last eight games (not taking into account the match-up he missed against the Wizards due to illness.) Even more reassuring is the fact that Bazz is doing it (efficiently) from all over the court, not just his favorite bully spots in the low post:
Another Wolves tidbit to chew on that's not in my piece: Over last 10 gms, Bazzy Muhammad 51.5% from field, 60% from deep, 84.2% from line— brittrobson (@brittrobson) January 10, 2017
While Shabazz has failed to tally a single assist during that span (concerning), he has made 12-20 three pointers, which is extremely beneficial for a bench that currently ranks dead last in the league in terms of bench points per game (21.5). With Zach LaVine banged up, Nemanja Bjelica struggling with consistency, and the rest of the bench mob failing to give the team productive minutes, it will be important in upcoming weeks for Bazz (#ContractYear) to continue to find a consistent rhythm off the bench as the Wolves sixth man.
As for tonight’s opponent, not much has changed for the Rockets since you last saw them back in December. Similar to their first match-up with the Wolves in December, the Rockets enter tonight on the second night of a back-to-back and are carrying a nine-game winning streak.
In terms of statistics, the Rockets continue to lead the league in 3PM (567) and have taken nearly 350 more attempts than the second place team (1477 compared to the Boston Celtics with 1144). Additionally, the Rockets continue to rank in the top five for points per game (114.8), assists per game (25.8), and field goal percentage (47.1.) Oh, they also rank second in terms of eFG percentage (55.7) and pace (98.4.)
“What about that dude with the crazy beard?” I’m glad you asked! James Harden is in full-on “cheat code mode” right now, having notched five triple-doubles in his last seven games (including a 53/17/16 masterpiece against the Knicks on December 29th, a 40/11/10 performance in Toronto on Sunday, and a mundane 40/10/15 last night against the Hornets). Read that again. The dude had 53 POINTS, 17 ASSISTS, and 16 REBOUNDS IN ONE GAME. The D’Antoni/Rockets partnership continues to produce beautiful, record-setting basketball poetry and it will be up to the Wolves wing players (primarily Andrew Wiggins) to attempt to slow down the James Harden Express.
“And now, your starting lineups...”
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Zach LaVine
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
PG - Patrick Beverly
SG - James Harden
SF - Trevor Ariza
PF - Ryan Anderson
C - Montrezl Harrell
Timberwolves: Zach LaVine (hip) is QUESTIONABLE and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is OUT.
Rockets: Eric Gordon (toe) and Clint Capela (knee) are OUT.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Rockets match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).
Factor / Wolves / Rockets
eFG% / 50.4% / 55.7%
TOV% / 15.2 / 15.3
ORB% / 28.0% / 25.7%
FTR / .283 / .278
Not much to analyze here. The Rockets are currently setting fire to the record books in terms of offensive production, and while the Wolves did display a sound game plan back in December to slow down the Rockets, it will take a full 48-minute performance tonight, not a 46-minute one.
Our blogging buddies for today are over at The Dream Shake. Be excellent.
PREDICTION: Wolves 109, Rockets 103