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Rockets 120, Wolves 102: Devastation

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Unsurprisingly the Wolves lost to the Rockets in Houston tonight. That’s the least of our problems.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolves, trailing by one at halftime, could not find any rhythm in the second half and fell to the Rockets for the third time this season, 120-102. That, however, is a distant second for worst thing to happen for the Wolves and their fans tonight. That clearly was Jimmy Butler leaving the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury that occurred on this play:

It was a non-contact injury, and Butler was clearly in a lot of distress leaving the court. We’ll find out soon just what the injury is, but truthfully, it did not look good.

Obviously losing Butler for an extended period is catastrophic for a Wolves team fighting for their first playoff spot in over a decade. Butler has been a culture changer for the Wolves, and has led them on the court to a playoff position. Without him, it obviously becomes much more difficult down the stretch.

As for the game itself, the Wolves hung around in the first half while the Rockets had trouble making their threes (6-21 in the first.) The Wolves got some balanced scoring from their starting unit in the first half, with Jeff Teague looking especially spry getting to the rim.

They struggled to contain the Rockets in transition, and were unable to control their defensive glass to the extent necessary to take advantage of the Rockets poor shooting. In the third quarter, even before the Butler injury, the Wolves offense ground to a halt, as they stopped moving the ball and were unable to find good looks. Droughts against the Rockets are just not survivable. Houston started finding the range, and Clint Capela becomes yet another moderate scoring center to have a huge night against the Wolves, as he got open on pick and rolls and offensive rebounds again and again, finishing with 245 on 10-11 from the field.

The truth is, with or without Butler, the Wolves have no answers for this Rockets team. Of course, given they have the best record in the NBA, not many teams do, but the Wolves have been unceremoniously brushed aside in all three meetings. It’s a bad match up for them. A team that pushes with intent and quality, is relentless from the arc, and has enough rim protection and rebounding to make things difficult in the paint is a formula that exposes the Wolves weaknesses and limits their strengths.

All of that means little if Butler is gone for the remainder of the season. Such a devastating blow for a team enjoying a renaissance. If he is, the Wolves will have to find a way to compete over the last 20 games without him. No matter what, it won’t be the same.