The Houston Rockets begin the second season tonight at the Toyota Center.
Standing in their way are the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Despite Tom Thibodeau’s defensive reputation, the Wolves were fourth in offensive efficiency this season and 22nd on the defensive side of the ball. They take care of the ball better than any other squad and fourth in offensive rebounding rate. In terms of basic team statistics, they have the profile of a really good team. In reality, they…are a really good team.
Minny’s biggest issue, as has been stated over and over here and elsewhere, is that they just don’t shoot the 3-ball enough to compete with teams that spam it like the Rockets. In fact, during the season series between the two teams, the Rockets made more than twice as many triples as Minnesota (69 to 34). That makes sense since Houston jacks up 20 more triples than the Timberwolves do on average.
Minnesota’s depth chart is basically the starters and then some injection of bench scoring in spurts. Thibs is famous for running his starters into the ground. Look at their most recent game against Denver, a win-or-go-home matchup that put Minnesota in the playoffs. No starter played fewer than 35 minutes, and four of them played 42 minutes or more. Expect to see plenty of Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Sure, off the bench we’ll see Jamal Crawford, Nemanja Bjelica, and Tyus Jones. Derrick Rose and Gorgui Dieng will see time as well. And remember, Dieng and Gerald Green have a bit of history.
Houston has remained content to let Towns try to beat them inside, so long as Minnesota can’t score from the outside. KAT is averaging 24/15 on 57% shooting against Houston this season. Teague is also playing better against Houston than other squads, averaging four extra points per game while shooting a whole ten percent better than his season average. If the Rockets can limit one of those two while holding Wiggins and Butler to below their shooting averages (as they did during the regular season), then the Rockets have to feel confident that they can advance.
Prediction: Rockets in 5. Yeah, we’re trying this out.
Tip-off is at 8pm CT on TNT