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Wolves vs Rockets: Bouncing Back

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Minnesota looks to flush last night’s performance out of their system

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves vs Rockets

7:00pm CST

FS North

Last night was truly a hideous performance from our beloved Minnesota Timberwolves, but the beauty of the NBA is you immediately get a chance to right the ship. The loss to Washington is bad, no doubt, but defeating James Harden and the Houston Rockets would salvage a 2-1 homestand.

Minnesota has a decent shot at doing just that, especially with Houston resting a few key players on their own SEGABABA (second game of a back to back). The Rockets are flying up to Minneapolis after a home win over the Indiana Pacers last night. Notably, Clint Capela and Russell Westbrook are out, along with Eric Gordon, Nene, and others.

This suggests a philosophical difference for Houston from years past, as they rarely rested anyone. It’s fair to wonder if they’ve gotten tired of flaming out in the playoffs, and are aiming to keep their guys fresh for a postseason run. I have questions about the Russ/Harden thing in the playoffs, but I digress.

Capela and Westbrook sitting out is obviously a bonus for Minnesota since those guys are good players, but it’s especially nice because Houston may be one of the top-heaviest teams in the entire league. Westbrook will probably be replaced by Austin Rivers, while Capela figures to be replaced by Tyson Chandler with Nene also out. That’s obviously a massive drop off.

With Capela out, Karl-Anthony Towns needs to come out ultra aggressive. There’s no chance Chandler or anyone else on the Rockets roster should be able to slow him down. With Andrew Wiggins likely out again tonight, there’s no reason KAT shouldn’t push 30 FGA tonight. That might seem excessive, but seriously, anything under that neighborhood is not enough without another reliable scoring option on the floor.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of P.J. Tucker on KAT. Tuck is way undersized for that matchup, but Mike D’Antoni often trusts him to get in position to bother bigs. He and Boston’s Marcus Smart are in a class of their own on that end.

As far as narratives go, there are two that stick out, at least to me.

First and foremost, there’ll be talk of Gersson Rosas leaving Houston for Minnesota. He’s done a great job of bringing a lot of the best aspects of the Houston Rockets up to Minnesota, modernizing the offense and empowering the coaches, players, and other front office staff. He’s promised not to just make Minnesota “Houston North,” but he’s done a wonderful job of making improvements thus far.

The other narrative, and the one I’m most excited for, is the Josh Okogie vs James Harden battle. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, but last winter Okogie made a statement of sorts in his play against the former league MVP. He frustrated Harden all night long en route to a Minnesota win, and provided THE highlight of his rookie season.

I still marvel at that clip. That’s a rookie, on an island against the best isolation scorer in the NBA not named Kevin Durant, and he absolutely suffocates him. Josh has endeared himself to all of us for plays like this. I’m sure Harden wants to make a statement after the way Okogie smothered him last season, but Josh will surely be up for the challenge. We know he’s looking forward to it.

This goes without saying, but the Wolves are really going to need Okogie to be at his best defensively tonight. With Westbrook and Capela sitting, as well as the injured Eric Gordon, Harden is going to have, quite possibly, the greenest light we’ve ever seen.

He’s been on a roll recently after a slow start, now averaging a ridiculous 38.7 points on 61.9% true-shooting. The biggest thing is going to be contesting Harden’s threes without fouling. We know he likes to manipulate his friends in the lead photo, and he’s firing up 14 3PA per game. Contesting without fouling will be a major key.

It’s hard to handicap a game with so many key players out, but currently the spread is set at Minnesota -1.5. If the Wolves come out with a different level of focus from last night, they might steal one against a top team in the West. If they don’t, Harden’s going to hang a number much bigger than the 44 Bradley Beal put on them last night. As it often does, it all comes down to stopping Harden.

Projected Lineups

Rockets

Austin Rivers

James Harden

Danuel House

P.J. Tucker

Tyson Chandler

Wolves

Jarrett Culver

Josh Okogie

Treveon Graham

Robert Covington

Karl-Anthony Towns

Our friends over at The Dream Shake have the Rockets end of things. Be excellent.