Houston Rockets (12-8) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (9-11)
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Last game: Minnesota: L, 106-101 vs Los Angeles Lakers, Houston: W, 97-84 vs New York
I’d say Minnesota started off cold against the Lakers yesterday, but that would be severely underselling the point. LA ran out to an 18 point lead in the third quarter before Rubio’s heroics brought the game back from the brink of a blowout. The Wolves managed to tie it halfway through the fourth, but Pau Gasol’s size and Kobe Bryant’s clutch shooting doomed Minnesota.
The Rockets continued to roll on Saturday, dropping the free-falling Knicks 97-84. Houston’s bench scored an astounding 61 points, while holding New York to just 5-26 shooting from behind the arc. The Rockets are 9-1 in their last 10 games.
The Key Questions
#1. STOP WITH THE COLD STARTS!
Not really a question so much as a requirement to win basketball games. Look, I love a good comeback story. My favorite NBA game of all time was Game 4 of the 2008 Finals when Boston came back from being down 20+ in the third quarter to beat the Lakers in LA (suck on that, Minnesota Kobe fans). But Minnesota CANNOT continue to dig themselves out of their own graves. Teams just don’t win that way. Teams win by playing the way Minnesota did against San Antonio. Allowing a team as hot as Houston to get on a roll early could turn into a blowout quickly.
#2. Will the Wolves have enough energy for this game?
Minnesota got done playing the Lakers, hopped on a plane, flew to Houston, and now faces one of the only other teams in the league with a bench as deep as their own. Merely throwing more and more bodies out on the court won’t be enough against the Rockets. Real rotation players are starting to work their way back into the lineup for Minnesota (Webster, Beasley) and apparently Barea might be back tonight (he traveled with the team, but is doubtful to play). Here’s hoping they make a difference.
#3. Why can’t the Wolves get back to .500?!
Four times this season, Minnesota has been one game away from .500 and lost, once to Milwaukee (which barely counts, the Wolves were 0-1 at the time…but still), once to Memphis, once to Utah, and now to the Lakers. Beating the Rockets would mean that the Wolves could go for .500 against yet another excellent team (the Pacers) on Wednesday. Sigh.
The Key Matchups
Boy, you can really tell Kevin Love hates his new contract. 31-10, 18-16, and 33-13 over the past three games? Dude is clearly hurting. Four games ago against the Rockets, Love put up 39 points. A repeat would be fun.
Even though Rubio tallied 12 assists last week, Kyle Lowry won the matchup. Not only did Lowry score 16 points and dish out 10 assists, but Rubio turned the ball over several times at truly inopportune moments. Last night, the Wolves took excellent care of the ball. They will need to do that again tonight to beat Houston.
Kevin Martin’s long range shooting obliterated the Wolves in their last matchup. Wes Johnson will probably be able to make a difference guarding him. One would hope, anyway.
Derrick Williams has been shooting very efficiently lately, but you can always tell which of his shots are going to go in and which are going to clank badly off the side of the rim. If he has enough time to visibly think “I wonder if I should shoot this” (seriously, you can see it go through his head), the shot is going to be a uglier than sin. If he catches and shoots immediately, he will drain it.
Minnesota’s record on the second night of a back to back this season, as previously mentioned on this very blog, has been ugly, just 1-5. Also, this is a tough road game against a hot team that got some rest last night. Tonight could be rough.
Game starts at 7 on Fox Sports North