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Wolves at Rockets: The Last Dance

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The Wolves finish up their season in Houston

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Timberwolves (31-50) at Rockets (54-27)
7:00 CST
FS North

At the end of the 2005-2006 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves played the Memphis Grizzlies and the Wolves needed to lose the game to ensure that they would keep their draft pick for the year. This game is infamous in Timberwolves history, as the Wolves sat out Kevin Garnett and gave Timberwolves legend Mark Madsen the go-ahead to launch threepointers, of which Madsen was 1-9 in the previous six seasons.

Against Memphis, Madsen attempted seven threepointers. He missed them all. The Wolves lost the game and retained their draft pick.

Tonight, the stakes are not quite as high, as the Wolves are in no danger of losing their draft pick. However, they also have no real incentive to win this game and they can only make their draft picks odds worse by being victorious against the Houston Rockets. The Wolves currently have the 7th best lottery odds. Here is what can happen tonight:

  • Wolves lose, Knicks win (they play the 76ers). Tie for 6 pick, decided by coin flip
  • Wolves lose, Knicks Lose. Wolves hold onto 7th pick
  • Wolves win, Dallas (playing Grizzlies) and/or Sacramento (playing Clippers) lose (tie for 8th or 8th and 9th pick)

Now, one would think that the Wolves would have to get creative to lose tonight’s game. As the rockets are locked into their playoff position and will likely be resting their stars, including James Harden, who essentially is their entire team.

However, the Wolves are not your average team. This team has found new depths in recent losses to the Lakers (who are actively trying to tank but somehow keep on winning) and, most recently, last night’s loss to the Thunder when they were resting their own stars. This late season swoon has been a disappointment, to put it mildly, and the Wolves most likely just want the season to end.

So let’s just pretend it has already ended! Honestly, it makes no sense for the Wolves to trot out their full line-up tonight. Most teams in the NBA are now very cognizant that the last few weeks of the season are essentially the “garbage time” of the schedule. Excluding the few teams that are fighting for playoff seeding, most teams are either locked into their playoff spot or are sulking through the rest of the season in aims of a better draft pick in order to sell the eternal hope for next year. The Dallas Mavericks even went full on publicity stunt with it last night, threatening to play Tony Romo off the bench to the chagrin of Wizard-in-Chief Rick Carlisle.

Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and probably Gorgui Dieng should not play tonight. The burden all of these players have carried all season is has been tremendous and it has obviously weighed on them all quite heavily the last few weeks. The Wolves have nothing to gain, there are no lessons to be learned from playing your starters against a full bench-mob of the Houston Rockets who are simply preparing for their playoff run.

Let Kris Dunn run the show, see what he can do with no leash for a full game, it would certainly be beneficial to have real game-tape to go over with him during the offseason. Could let Adriean Payne and Jordan Hill get some burn, although perhaps make Payne sign a one-game waiver that would penalize him for injuring anyone. Let Shabuckets run free and be the scoring machine for 40 minutes he yearns to be.

Now, there is one undercurrent that could make this particular game quite poignant and would make last night’s re-brand even more bittersweet. This is theoretically Ricky Rubio’s last game as a Timberwolf.

At A Wolf Among Wolves, with the former Punch Drunk Wolves crew, they had a great back-and-forth about what this would mean, both for Ricky and the Wolves as a franchise. It is certainly nothing close to a foregone conclusion that tonight would be the end of Rubio’s tenure with the team, as months of trade speculation have not given way to any concrete movements, not to mention that Rubio has been playing outstanding basketball for quite some time now.

Not to further pontificate on the issue, but if by some yet unknown (although not drastically unforeseen) change in direction means tonight is the last game that Wolves fans will be watching Rubio play for their own team, then all we can do is hope that he plays in a game that is a fitting farewell.

Expected Starting Lineups

Wolves (barring an unlikely decision from Tom Thibodeau)

Ricky Rubio
Brandon Rush
Andrew Wiggins
Gorgui Dieng
Karl-Anthony Towns

Rockets (dubious that James Harden plays)

James Harden
Eric Gordon
Trevor Ariza
Ryan Anderson
Chinanu Onuaku

Four Factors

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% / 51.0% / 54.4%

TOV% / 14.4 / 14.7

ORB% / 27.3% / 24.5%

FTR / .288 / .305

Prediction: Wolves 122 - Rockets 120. Wolves go full Wolvesy, win game at the last-second and end up with the 9th seed. Barely beat a Rockets team that is playing only a few starters.