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Game #24: The Return of the Rockets

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Minnesota faces Houston for the first time since the first round of last season’s playoffs

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets (11-11) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-12)
7pm CT
FSN

The last time these two teams faced off against one another, Wolves fans were awestruck by the fact that they had clinched a playoff berth for the first time in 13 years. And while exciting, that jubilation unfortunately didn’t last very long in that particular series. The Wolves managed to swipe one game from the Rockets at Target Center, but the Houston’s new-age finesse had little trouble overcoming the Minnesota’s brutish style of Jimmy Butler bully-ball.

Much has changed since those five games. Butler has been shipped out of town and replaced by Rob Covington and Dario Saric, while Derrick Rose has embarked on a renaissance campaign. Meanwhile Houston has fallen from the position of regular season top-dog, dropping so significantly that they run the early risk of being relegated from the playoff picture entirely. Now, that likely will not happen, but replacing glue-guy Trevor Ariza with Carmelo Anthony’s hollowed out shell (that has since moved on to occupy empty gyms) has proved to be more problematic than perhaps initially thought.

Add to that the fact that Chris Paul, PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon are all a year older and Houston is suddenly ninth in a Western Conference fraught with contenders.

While it looks like the Rockets are at least beginning to straighten things out (they managed a five-game win streak in early November), they continue to run into some concerning bumps, including recent back-to-back losses to two of the league’s most troubled franchises: the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards.

Like last season, Houston leads the league in attempted threes, but their percentage is slightly down, as is the rate at which they get to the free throw line. Despite all of this, the Rockets are still sixth in the league in offensive rating (113.6), and it would be naive for any team to write them off this early on in the season. The Wolves have struggled against teams that shoot well beyond the perimeter in the past, but the addition of Covington and Saric provides them with a little extra depth that could help them outlast this suddenly shallow Houston team.

Expected Starting Lineups

Wolves

PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Andrew Wiggins
SF: Rob Covington
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Karl-Anthony Towns

Rockets

PG: Chris Paul
SG: James Harden
SF: James Ennis
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Clint Capela

Our pals over at The Dream Shake have Rockets coverage for you.