Wolves vs Rockets
Woof. The losing streak is once again getting lengthy, now at seven games. Sadly, it doesn’t feel all that bad after the eleven-game losing streak we endured earlier in the year. That’s all very, very bad. Luckily for Minnesota, they get to attempt to stop the bleeding tonight against a team that only walloped them 139-109 less than two weeks ago. Yay!
In all seriousness, the losing is becoming draining. It’s taking a toll on all of us, from our contributors, to you our readers, as well as the team and fanbase in general. It’s exhausting.
One might look at tonight as an opportunity to get back on track against a good team who’s struggling right now. I lack the optimism to view it that way, and I’m generally one of the more optimistic people there are. If you still have that optimism, though, good for you. Keep fighting the good fight.
While the Wolves roster will surely look at this evening as an opportunity to get back on track, so to will the Houston Rockets. Houston is losers of 4 of their past 5 games, with their only win coming against a severely depleted Denver Nuggets squad.
In the last meeting, James Harden and Russell Westbrook did what they always do. It’s worth noting that after struggling to adjust at the start of the year, Westbrook has almost entirely sworn off jumpers recently, instead solely attacking the rim with his normal ferocity. It’s led to the best stretch for him of the season, which doesn’t figure to stop tonight.
That’s the big issue. Minnesota may be reasonably tactically ready for the onslaught of threes Houston and James Harden figure to fire up, and the Rockets are unlikely to take the mid-range jumpers Minnesota is willing to concede. Where things seem likely to get ugly, though, is when either Westbrook, Harden, or Eric Gordon attack the rim. It’s not exactly a secret that Minnesota’s interior defense is a mess, and much of that falls on Karl-Anthony Towns.
The other major area of concern comes down to how rigid the Wolves will be in their drop coverage on the pick-and-roll. They’ll be fine if it’s Westbrook coming off those ball-screens, but if it’s Harden or Gordon, they’re going to toast Minnesota from beyond the arc. I get that this is the way David Vanterpool has always had his teams play defense, but it seems like an odd strategy for a team who so desperately wants to run team off the three-point line. Sure, many times this coverage leads to mid-range jumpers, but we’ve also seen it yield open threes for the opposition at key moments during the game.
It is worth noting that Harden is enduring his worst stretch of the season right now. In the four games leading up to the Denver game, Harden made just 33.6% of all field goals, including a ghastly 17.9% from three. He shot a bit better against Denver, going 6-for-13 and 2-for-6 from three. Some of this could be seen as regression, as Harden has taken so many attempts during his Houston tenure that you can basically bank on him shooting something like 44/36/86.
Really, go look at his career, every season his numbers come out almost exactly the same. That’s exactly the kind of shooter he is, so it’s certainly possible that this was just regression from a previously scorching start to the year.
Anyway, the storylines are basically the same for the Wolves as they always are. Can Karl-Anthony Towns become competent on defense? Will Jarrett Culver continue to progress? Can Andrew Wiggins put together a full 48 minutes? These are the things we watch for on a nightly basis.
One under-the-radar guy to watch for: Isaiah Hartenstein. He’s good. Really good, actually, although Mike D’Antoni seems hesitant to deviate from his pre-determined rotation. If there ever were a Robert Covington-to-Houston deal, I’d like Hartenstein to somehow be a part of that deal.
Lastly, I can’t properly preview a game against the Rockets without at least mentioning P.J. Tucker. He’s one of my favorite players in the league, an absolute bulldog whose only goal is winning. I hope for the Wolves sake they don’t go to it too much tonight, but lineups with Tucker at the 5 are some of my favorite in basketball. The Tuckwagon rolls on.
Check out our friends over at the Dream Shake for the Rockets news.