There are always a few outlier teams in today’s NBA that the rest of the league struggles against. When the stars align, like with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat, there seems to be no one else that can really take down the Goliaths of the league. This year, the Houston Rockets are trying to put themselves in that arena and they went all-out during the offseason in order to construct a team that can compete with the best of the best.
By bringing in Chris Paul, as well as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, the Rockets have one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the NBA. They can play big with Clint Capela or Nene at center. They can stretch the floor with Ryan Anderson. They can go with one lead guard or two with some combination of Eric Gordon, Chris Paul, and James Harden. Most importantly, they have a bevy of rangy wings that can play defense and shoot threes with Tucker, Mbah a Moute, and Trevor Ariza. The Rockets have been demolishing the league, at least in the regular season, and now are likely to end the year with the best record in the NBA.
In the games that the Wolves have played the Rockets this year, the talent disparity has been incredibly apparent. The Wolves simply do not have the personnel nor skill sets in order to punish teams that go small nor can they keep up with the three-point shooting barrages. The Wolves have gone 0-3 so far against the Rockets, losing by, oddly enough, 18 points every time.
Furthermore, the Rockets have been successfully able to bait the Wolves into trying to take advantage of the small lineups by putting James Harden on Taj Gibson. This year, Harden has been a surprisingly good post defender and this strategy effectively takes the ball out of the hands of the Wolves’ premier offensive threats.
Tonight’s game will be even more difficult without Jimmy Butler. With Butler, the Wolves at least had someone to throw at James Harden, who has been absolutely outstanding this year and is en route to win the MVP award. Now the Wolves will be relying on Andrew Wiggins take on Butler’s duties, which will be challenging but Wiggins has shown he can be up for the challenge in the past.
The bigger problem is the mismatches this creates across the rest of the lineups. Nemanja Bjelica has certainly filled in admirably in the starting lineup, even having a strong defensive performance against Kevin Durant, but the Rockets are going to spread the floor against a Wolves team that is playing three big men between Bjelica, Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Not exactly a recipe for success against the team that shoots the most threes in the NBA.
The Wolves other problem is going to be their bench unit. The Rockets will have one of Harden, Gordon, or Paul out there at all times. With Derrick Rose, the Wolves have been throwing out the abominable lineup of Tyus Jones, Rose, and Jamal Crawford. One of the less-talked about stories for the Wolves this year has been just how bad the Crawford lineups have been at defense. Adding Rose to the mix has not helped in that regard. That trio has played 25 minutes so far in the last three games and has a net rating of -48.2 with a defensive rating of 146.4. That number, somehow, will likely get even worse after this game.
This is likely not going to be a fun game. Of course, the Wolves have proved us wrong in the past. We only have to look to the recent game against the Warriors for an example. However, there is a reason why we really do not want the Wolves to be lower than the 6th seed, as they have not shown they are ready for that matchup quite yet.
Projected Starting Lineups