Houston Rockets (9-7) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (7-9)
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Last game: Minnesota: L, 108-98 vs Utah, Houston: W, 105-102 vs San Antonio
A clearly fatigued Minnesota team lost to the surprising Jazz Saturday night, breaking the Timberwolves three game winning streak. Kevin Love settled for entirely too many jumpers shooting just 5-21 from the field. Utah’s interior size torched Minnesota, as the starting big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson combined for 44 points.
The Rockets rallied late against San Antonio on Saturday, going on a 26-18 run to end the game and beat the Spurs 105-102 in Houston. The Rockets improved to 9-7 on the year, but are just 2-6 on the road.
Jonny Flynn and Kevin McHale both make their returns to the Target Center tonight.
The Key Questions
#1. Is this the new Wes Johnson?
In the first 13 games of the season, Wes attempted two free throws. Go ahead, re-read it. Then check my math. It’s the truth. In the past three games, Wes has attempted 8. Not mind numbing numbers by any means, but certainly an improvement. He has also looked more comfortable shooting the ball, shooting 11-18 from the field and 4-7 from three point range.
Listen, I’ve done my fair share of Wes bashing here on Howlin’ T-Wolf, but even I would never deny this: Wes’ athleticism is excellent and his shot is a thing of beauty when it’s falling. If he can continue to show signs of improvement like he has over the past few games, I’ll be very encouraged.
#2. Which is stronger: the Rockets six game winning streak or their bad road record?
As mentioned before, the Rockets are just 2-6 on the road. Part of that stems from their difficult road schedule, and their relatively easy home games. On the road, Houston has faced the Clippers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Spurs, and Magic. At home, they have been matched up against the Pistons, Kings, Hornets, and the struggling Trailblazers.
Of course, the Wolves have challenged teams like the Heat, beat Dallas at home, beat the Clippers on the road, and lost to teams like Toronto, so are the Timberwolves going to be another road test for the Rockets, or an opportunity to improve that 2-6 mark? It’s hard to say.
#3. Oh Barea, where art thou?
JJ Barea is out for yet ANOTHER week with a sprained ankle, as is Beasley with his sprained foot. Rubio has been doing an excellent job creating open shots for his teammates to kickstart an occasionally stagnant offense, and Wayne Ellington continues to make a solid case for himself for minutes. But at some point, the Wolves are going to need a player (or two) who can create for himself, and the two most capable shot creators on this team are both nursing sprains.
The Key Matchups
Kyle Lowry is a beast. Really, I just wanted to start off by saying that. He is incredibly athletic, but more importantly, he makes good basketball decisions. Lowry is averaging 16 points and 8 assists per game. His turnovers are up (3.6) but his usage rate is up 4% as well, so he’s being entrusted with the ball more often. But it’s his style of play that will make tonight’s matchup against Rubio so interesting. Lowry is kind of similar to Westbrook in that he goes crashing to the basket to try to score. It will be fun to see how Rubio is tested defensively tonight after a big night offensively against Utah (17 points, 11 assists).
Love will be matched against Luis Scola, whose range will test Love on defense. Scola, however, is a below average defender, so look for Love to start a new double double streak in impressive fashion tonight.
Derrick Williams showed some really great flashes against Utah. He still took some contested long twos, showing some inner Beasley, but he spent quite a bit more time working his way to the basket and to the free throw line, which was really great to see. It would be nice to see him get some more quality minutes tonight.
The most disappointing thing about tonight’s matchup? Brad Miller is injured and Jonny Flynn doesn’t get any playing time, so there’s very little chance of a Miller/Flynn grudge match. *sad sigh*
I have no idea what to expect from Minnesota anymore. They are capable of beating just about anyone and equally capable of losing to anyone. They had a night off in between games, so hopefully that will give them enough rest time to come out fresh. But honestly? I refuse to guess one way or the other.
Game starts at 7 on Fox Sports North