Web Editorial Associate
The Rockets are not taking their first-round matchup with the Wolves lightly.
Despite the difference in the teams’ records, the Rockets know that Minnesota is a team that can be dangerous every single night.
“It’s going to be a great competition,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni after practice on Saturday. “They’re good and they can score in all kinds of different ways so they’ll test us, and we’ll have to be ready.”
Several Rockets players talked about the necessity of keeping mistakes to a minimum against a Wolves team that is one of the best in the league both at creating points off turnovers and scoring on second-chance opportunities.
“Every playoff team has an urgency that they want to steal Game 1,” said James Harden. “We’re definitely not overlooking them. We know how much talent they have on that roster. Well-coached, we know what we’re facing, what we’re up against.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the Rockets will be containing Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is impossible to stop completely, so the Rockets will be focusing on trying to take away certain parts of his game—like his three-point shooting.
“He’s going to get double-doubles. That’s how they got here and that’s how they’ll stay here,” said D’Antoni. “You don’t stop guys at this level, you contain them as best you can and give them nothing easy.”
A lot of the burden of containing Towns will fall on center Clint Capela, a talented defensive big who is relishing the opportunity to go head-to-head with Towns.
“We’ve been playing against each other a lot this year, now to have them in a series is going to be a real challenge,” he said. “He’s a great player, he can do everything on the court, he’s about my age, it’s exciting.”
Though the Wolves did not beat the Rockets this year during the regular season, in the playoffs, everything starts over. It’s a different game. The last time the two teams met, the Wolves almost came back from a 20+ point deficit without Jimmy Butler. This time, they’ll be the ones at full-strength while the Rockets are missing two key contributors in Ryan Anderson and Luc Mbah a Moute.
The Wolves are sometimes talked about as a young team, but there are plenty of players up and down Minnesota’s roster that know how to play in big moments, and after such a long postseason drought, the Wolves will be coming out fighting.
“They have a lot of energy, they play hard, they have a lot of athletic players, they have a lot of really good players,” said Rockets forward Trevor Ariza. “Whether they’re young or not it doesn’t matter, we just got to treat them like anyone else we’re playing against.”
The Wolves face the Rockets in the first game of their first-round series tomorrow night. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.