Not surprisingly, the NBA world isn’t giving the Timberwolves much of a fighting chance to challenge the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
If you spent any time perusing NBA playoff predictions over the three days since the Timberwolves do-or-die victory over the Nuggets on Wednesday night, you probably noticed that not too many folks are giving the eighth-seeded Wolves a fighting chance to challenge the 65-win Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s largely fair, of course. The Rockets were the NBA’s best team basically from start to finish this year, and have the almost-lock for Most Valuable Player in James Harden. Just look at the ESPN “expert predictions”. All 22 of the experts peg the Rockets to win the series, and a whopping 10 of them think Houston will complete a four-game sweep.
In fact, all but Marc Spears, who graciously believes the Wolves will push the series to a Game Seven, picked the Rockets to win in either four or five games.
On ESPN’s analytical side, Kevin Pelton ranked the eight playoff series by which are most likely to produce an upset. For instance, No. 5 Indiana’s 47 percent chance to defeat the No. 4-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers came in first place.
Wolves-Rockets? A less than one percent chance of finishing with a Minnesota victory, according to Pelton, even though he recognizes the Wolves as “atypically good” for an eight-seed.
Elsewhere on the Worldwide Leader, Zach Lowe and David Thorpe recorded an eight minute podcast just on the Minnesota-Houston series. They have similar feelings, with Thorpe suggesting that this series could be the least close of all eight first-round matchups.
One intriguing point made by Thorpe and backed up by Lowe: in the four regular season matchups between Houston and Minnesota, the Rockets were willing to allow James Harden to be switched onto Karl-Anthony Towns. When KAT received the ball in the post against the Rockets, he averaged 1.34 points per possession — and that’s not necessarily just against Harden.
The Wolves need to capitalize on the Rockets’ lack of outstanding post defenders. Outside of Clint Capela, there isn’t anyone in Houston’s regular rotation that would be able to slow down Towns, or even Taj Gibson for that matter.
None of the above takes are incorrect, of course; the Timberwolves are massive underdogs. But they’ll still roll the ball out on Sunday night and in at least three other games, so we’ll see what happens.