The match-up of the one and eight seeds in the Western Conference will finally feature two teams that are not the Golden State Warriors. The Houston Rockets come into the playoffs at 65-17 and with the best record in the Western Conference. They will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs where they were 34-7 this season. In this Rockets vs. Timberwolves preview, we will break down the strengths and weaknesses of both teams.
Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves Series Preview
The Rockets will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves who won a winner-takes-all game to claim the eighth spot. The Wolves and Nuggets came into game 82 of the season with identical records. Led by Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves took home and overtime victory to get into the playoffs. Now, they will take on the Rockets who they lost all four meetings against in the regular season.
The Rockets have six players who average double-digit points per game. One of them being the front-runner for MVP, James Harden. Harden completed another dominate season as the NBA’s scoring champion with 30.4 points per game. The addition of Chris Paul was originally thought to take the ball out of Harden’s hands but the two learned to coexist. Paul averaged 18.6 points and 7.9 assists per game.
Like Houston, the Wolves also had six players score double-digit points per game. Butler was the big splash addition in the off-season. He missed some time due to injury and was limited to 59 games this season. Towns finished his first all-star season as one of the top big men in the league. He averaged 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game.
The Wolves averaged 109.5 points per game which was good for eighth in the league. On the other end of the court, they allowed 107.3 points. That could be a problem against a Rockets’ team that was second in the league in team scoring at 112.4 points per game.
James Harden and Jimmy Butler Match-Up
Harden has solidified himself as a top-five player in this league. However, there are a few things that have eluded him: an MVP trophy and a ring. He has the chance to get both this year but he will face another top shooting guard in his quest to raise a banner in Houston.
Butler joined Minnesota after six seasons in Chicago. The addition of him immediately made the Wolves contenders and they held a spot as high as fourth in the Western Conference until his injury. Butler was forced to miss time and the Wolves struggled. With Butler back, the key match-up in this series is how he will be able to keep up with Harden.
Wolves’ Defensive Struggles
In four losses against Houston, the Wolves gave up 129, 126, 120 and 116 points. If the Wolves want to have any success in this series, they will have to tighten up defensively. The problem is, they didn’t play great defense against the rest of the league either.
The Rockets were the second highest scoring team this season and that doesn’t look like it will slow down come playoff time. If there is a team that can score 120 points every game, it is the Rockets. They have outscored teams all season and might be too much for Minnesota to handle.
Veterans vs. Youth
The Rockets have two guys in Harden and Paul who have experience in the postseason. Especially with home court advantage, it is unlikely that they will make big mistakes to lose a game or a series.
The Wolves feature some veteran presence on their team but two of their main players are in the playoffs for the first time, them being Towns and Andrew Wiggins. While great in the regular season, it has yet to be seen how they will perform on the biggest stage in the NBA. Also, Wiggins has openly said that he does not like taking a backseat to Towns and Butler. If he tries to force the issue and be the her against Houston, it could be a quick series.
This is not the NCAA Tournament’s one game elimination style. The NBA plays seven game series and because of that, the better team in the first round usually wins. The addition of Butler will not be enough for Minnesota to take down Harden and Paul. The Rockets have dethroned the Warriors for the one seed and they are a team on a mission. Expect them in the first two rounds to make quick work of their opponents to get maximum rest.
Final Prediction: Rockets win series 4-0.