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Game Preview #50: Wolves vs. Rockets

Coming off another frustrating fourth quarter collapse, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Minnesota Timberwolves look to bounce back against Fred VanVleet the Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

For just the second time this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets will go up against each other, this time at Target Center. This will be the Timberwolves final home game before the All-star break, as Minnesota goes on a five-game road trip before the festivities begin in Indianapolis.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (34-15) vs Houston Rockets (23-25)
  • When: Sunday, February 4th at 6:00 PM CT
  • Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, MN
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Lea B. Olsen)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Wolves -7, Total: 221.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Sunday 2/4 at 10:25 AM CT:

Minnesota

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Rudy Gobert (left ankle sprain)

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
  • Josh Minott (G League assignment)

Houston

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Jock Landale (right wrist bone bruise)

OUT:

  • Tari Eason (lower leg)
  • Steven Adams (trade pending; knee surgery recovery)

What To Watch For

Orlando Magic v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Fourth Quarter Offense

The fourth quarter woes that have been an issue for the past few weeks showed up again on Friday during the 108-106 loss to the Orlando Magic. With an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Wolves scored just 18 points in the final frame, losing the quarter by 10 points and the game by two.

Minnesota shot just 25% from the field during the fourth quarter with only two of their points coming in the paint during that span.

It has been a common theme for the Timberwolves to have a lead late in games only to give up that lead down the final stretch of the game. While the Wolves have had solid games in the clutch as recently as Monday in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the overall trend in January and now February has been that the Timberwolves have been unable to close games out.

The Timberwolves will have to show that they can consistently either win games when the score is close late or take a big enough lead heading into the fourth that the game is out of reach before the questions about the late-game offense go away.

Luckily, the Wolves are dealing with this issue in February instead of right before the playoffs. In a recent appearance on the Jon Krawczynski Podcast, Chris Finch said, “You don’t want to be dealing with these issues come March. We’ve got lots of time to figure it out now.”


Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

Sending the Chris Finch to Coach the All-Star Game

With a win tonight against the Rockets, the Timberwolves will clinch at least a share of the top spot in the Western Conference, which would send Wolves’ Head Coach Chris Finch to Indianapolis as one of the NBA All-Star Game Head Coaches along with new Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Doc Rivers.

The Oklahoma City Thunder losing to the Toronto Raptors would also secure the honor for Finch. An interesting wrinkle is that while the Thunder currently hold the top spot in the Western Conference via division tiebreaker, the tiebreaker that determines the All-Star Game bench spot ignores the division tiebreaker and instead favors conference record, in which the Wolves have the advantage.

All of that aside, the most simple path forward for Finch becoming the Head Coach of the All-Star Game would be to take care of business tonight against the Rockets. If they do so, Finch would join Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns on the trip to Indianapolis.


Orlando Magic v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Finding Success at Target Center

After starting the season 17-2 at home, the Wolves have lost three of their last four games at Target Center, with the lone win coming against a decimated Dallas Mavericks roster missing Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving, and Dereck Lively II, among others.

Target Center has been a fantastic atmosphere for Wolves basketball this year, but as of the past few games, that has not been translating to wins. With the Wolves leaving for a long road trip, and the All-Star break after that, it would be beneficial to give Wolves fans a win before the long layoff between home games.

The Rockets have also struggled to win on the road all season, sporting a terrible 5-16 record on the road this season. The only team with fewer than five road wins this season is the last-placed Detroit Pistons, who have won only two games away from their home arena.

With the Wolves’ strong home record and the Rockets’ dismal showings away from the Toyota Center, this should be a game the Timberwolves can dominate from the jump, but as we’ve seen recently, nothing is guaranteed in the NBA and Minnesota will need a strong showing to beat this upstart Rockets team.