- Rockets beat Nuggets on Wednesday to snap 4-game losing streak
- Houston has won both meetings against Minnesota so far this season
- Minnesota enters Friday’s game on a 7-game losing streak
|Rockets||-5.5 (-110)||-245||Over 234.5 (-110)|
|Timberwolves||+5.5 (-110)||+195||Under 234.5 (-110)|
The Minnesota Timberwolves were something of a trendy pick to challenge for a playoff berth this season. Minnesota was afforded the chance to start anew without the Jimmy Butler distraction derailing their season before it started, and the players seemed ready to buy-in to head coach Ryan Saunders entering his first full season in charge.
Needless to say, things have gone awry. The Wolves have been largely undone by injuries. Karl-Anthony Towns just came back after missing about a month with knee trouble, while the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Napier, Robert Covington, Jeff Teague, Josh Okogie and others have all missed time at some point this season.
The Wolves traded Teague to the Atlanta Hawks just last week, which was perhaps the first sign that the team will be willing to entertain trade offers for some of its veterans as next month’s deadline draws near.
The Rockets, meanwhile, sit sixth in the Western Conference standings at 27-16 on the year, though they have struggled of late. Houston managed to beat a severely shorthanded Denver team on Wednesday, but before that the team had lost 4 straight in dismal fashion.
The Rockets enter Friday’s game in Minneapolis as 5.5-point favorites in a game with a hefty 234.5 over/under at BetOnline.
Old Westbrook Back?
While James Harden has been in a bit of an individual funk recently, the Rockets have gotten some nice showings out of Russell Westbrook. The former MVP has been playing second fiddle to Harden all year in his first season with the Rockets, but every now and then we’ll get a glimpse of the Russell Westbrook of old.
Russ is still averaging 25.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists for Houston, and he’s actually averaging more shot attempts this season than he has in either of his last two years with Oklahoma City. Through 7 games in January, Westbrook is up to 30 points, 8.9 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game on better than 52 percent shooting from the field.
Harden hasn’t been playing well, but he is still leading the league in scoring with an average of 36.6 points per game. So far this month, he’s *only* averaging 30.9 points along with 7.8 rebounds and 7 assists per game. No backcourt in the league is as prolific on a statistical basis as Houston’s, but the questions about whether this team is capable of actually contending for a championship are still legitimate.
Harden has failed to top 30 points in 3 of his last 4 games, which is the first such stretch he has endured all season long. However, he’s in a pretty nice get-right spot tonight against Minnesota. Through 2 games against the Wolves so far this season, the former MVP has averaged 40.5 points, 9 boards and 7 assists per game while connecting on better than 42 percent of his looks from 3-point range. That includes a 49-point effort back in November in his most recent trip to Minneapolis.
Can the Rockets Stop Towns?
This will be the third meeting of the year between the Rockets and Timberwolves, but it will be the first time that Karl-Anthony Towns and Clint Capela will do battle. Capela missed the Rockets’ 125-105 win in Minnesota in November, while Towns was out for Houston’s 139-109 triumph a couple of weeks ago.
Towns’ aforementioned injury will likely cost him a spot on the All-Star team this year, but his numbers are certainly worthy. Through 27 games, KAT is up to 26.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists while impressively shooting just under 41 percent from downtown.
Andrew Wiggins showed some signs of coming around earlier this season, but he’s been scuffling recently. He’s still averaging a healthy 22.4 points per game on the season, but his average has dipped to just 16.4 per game in January while shooting about 41 percent from the field.
The over/under of 234.5 for this game makes sense considering both teams rank in the top-8 in pace. Minnesota is 8th with an average of 104.9 possessions per game, while Houston is second at 106.1. The Rockets rank a passable 15th in defensive efficiency, while the Timberwolves are 16th.
I have plenty of questions about the Rockets in the long term, but this is a team that matches up excellently against Minnesota. Capela is quick enough on his feet to be able to chase Towns out beyond the 3-point line, which can’t be said for most centers. I still expect KAT to put up numbers in this matchup, but I’m skeptical that the Wolves have enough other firepower to really keep up.
The Rockets average 111 points per 100 possessions, which quietly ranks third in the league behind only Dallas and Milwaukee. For all of the scrutiny over whether Harden and Westbrook can coexist, the results so far this season seem to indicate that they’re just fine together.
The Rockets’ relative lack of depth beyond those two may come back to haunt them come playoff time, but this is a team that should be able to coast into a top-4 seed come playoff time. The Wolves have absolutely nobody capable of slowing down Harden defensively, while Westbrook poses all sorts of matchup issues, especially against a Wolves team depending on a smallish point guard in Napier.
The Rockets have smoked the Wolves twice so far this season, and I think they stand a good chance of doing so for a third time on Friday night. The 5.5-point spread is just too small for a couple of teams occupying opposite ends of the talent spectrum. I think the Rockets can cover that with ease in this one.