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Wolves at Rockets: Play to your Strengths

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The Wolves take their third swing at the Western Conference leading Houston Rockets

NBA: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Timberwolves at Rockets

7:00 pm CST

ESPN

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the Timberwolves have managed to achieve such a potent offense (the third most efficient in the league) without conforming to the norms of the ‘modern NBA.’ In that piece, I highlighted the Houston Rockets as defining how analytics have transformed the way offenses are designed. They’re attempting a league leading 42.8 three pointers on average en route to the best record (44-13) and second most effective offense of the season. They’ve epitomized what it means to search for efficient scoring opportunities, and it’s almost impossible to beat them at their own game.

The Wolves find themselves on the other end of that spectrum. They’re attempting a league-low 22.2 three pointers per game. Instead they rely on positive free-throw and turnover differentials to create surplus opportunities over their opponent. Their roster also features a bevy of talented individual offensive players that most teams are unable to match. Combining free-throws, turnovers, and individual performances is how the Wolves garnered a 36-25 record heading into the all-star break.

In their first two games of the season against the Rockets, though, the Wolves left with matching 18 point defeats because they didn’t execute their strengths.

On January 18th, the Wolves traveled to Houston to test their hand against the Western Conference elite. During the loss (116-98), the Wolves made just eight three pointers to the Rockets’ 17 - no surprise. However, they also attempted one less free throw (14-15), and turned the ball over one more time than their Texas counterpart (11-10). Against a high-octane shooting team, this is a recipe for a Wolves loss.

Then, a month later, the Wolves hosted the Rockets at Target Center on February 13th. In this defeat (126-108), a similar pattern emerged. The Rockets, as expected, left the Wolves in their dust in terms of three-point shooting; they made 22 to the Wolves’ 6. Still, they managed to match the Wolves free-throw attempts (22-22) and create three more turnovers (9-6).

Over their 36 wins, the Wolves have averaged 7.1 more free-throws attempted than their opponent and 2.5 additional turnovers generated. In a game in which they will almost assuredly lose the battle of the long-ball once again, it is imperative that they succeed at what they do best.

Tonight, the Wolves will look to start their 21 game playoff sprint on the right foot; watch for the two factors highlighted above: free throws and turnovers. If the Wolves come away with a win, they will most likely be very productive in those categories.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are in search of their 11th straight victory. They’ll enjoy the return of Trevor Ariza to their starting lineup and introduce two newly acquired bench pieces: Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright.

Expected Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague

Jimmy Butler

Andrew Wiggins

Taj Gibson

Karl-Anthony Towns

Rockets

Chris Paul

James Harden

Trevor Ariza

P.J. Tucker

Clint Capela