Saturday marks the start of the NBA playoffs, but we’ll have to wait to see James Harden and Chris Paul in their first playoff game as Rockets teammates. On Sunday they’ll start their series with the Wolves, a rare No. 8 seed with two All-Stars on the roster.
The Rockets clinched the NBA’s best record a long time ago, but the Wolves didn’t know their postseason fate until a dramatic 112-106 overtime win over the Nuggets on the final day of the regular season sent them to the postseason for the first time since 2004. The Wolves were expected to make a leap this season, and might be better than a traditional No. 8 seed since they’re getting Jimmy Butler back after a 17-game absence due to a knee injury.
Before Game 1, here is everything you need to know about what could be the best first-round series of them all:
No. 1 Houston Rockets (65-17) vs. No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)
Playoff series schedule:
- Game 1 in Houston: Sunday, April 15, 9 p.m. ET, TNT
- Game 2 in Houston: Wednesday, April 18, 9:30 p.m. ET, TNT
- Game 3 in Minneapolis: Saturday, April 21, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
- Game 4 in Minneapolis: Monday, April 23, 8 p.m. ET, TNT
- Game 5 in Houston: TBA (if necessary)
- Game 6 in Minneapolis: TBA (if necessary)
- Game 7 in Houston: TBA (if necessary)
Season series: 4-0, Rockets
Last season’s playoff results: Rockets eliminated (4-2) by Spurs in conference semifinals; Wolves making first playoff appearance since 2003-04 season.
Injury report: Houston’s Luc Mbah a Moute (shoulder) is expected to miss the entire first round series.
Houston Rockets projected starting lineup: G Chris Paul; G James Harden; F Trevor Ariza; F P.J. Tucker; C Clint Capela
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup: G Jeff Teague; G Jimmy Butler; F Andrew Wiggins; F Taj Gibson; C Karl-Anthony Towns
Houston wins if …
As long as the Rockets play the way they’ve played all year, they shouldn’t have a problem with the Wolves. Minnesota has struggled defensively all year long, so they should have trouble keeping up with Houston’s high-octane attack. Clint Capela is a big enough body to make things difficult for Karl-Anthony Towns and force him to stay connected on the defensive end, while P.J. Tucker should be able to defend Jimmy Butler and keep him from taking over offensively.
Minnesota wins if …
A lot has to go right for the Wolves to pull off the upset. First and foremost, they have to lock down James Harden, which will largely be the responsibility of Jimmy Butler. Second, they have to hope the Rockets go ice-cold from the 3-point line in at least three of the games, and shoot the lights out themselves. Karl-Anthony Towns has the ability to take over games offensively, especially if Houston goes small, and he’ll need to have the series of his life if they’re going to win.
According to SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh, Houston has a 17.7 percent chance to win the conference and a 10.2 percent chance to win it all. Minnesota, on the other hand, has a 4.8 percent chance to reach the conference finals and a 2.3 percent chance to reach the Finals. SportsLine will have game-by-game gambling advice for every playoff series here.