There Will Be Beards: Rockets at Timberwolves Preview

Credit: Getty Images

Love: “Hey, James. Doesn’t Kobe look strange without a beard?” Kobe: “You guys want to compare championship rings– OH WAIT.”

Where: Target Center (Buy tickets, you!)

When: 7pm

See It: FSN

Hear It: WCCO AM 830

Tonight features a key matchup between Kevin Love and James Harden. No, not as far as their skill sets, but their beards! Whether you side with Harden’s hobo deluxe or Love’s spirit of the the lumberjack, there’s a little bit of something for everyone tonight. Beards are a thing that should be revered, and not feared. Facial hair is such a pivotal part of tonight’s game that Love had this to say about the beard matchup with Harden:

 “Mine’s still in the works. I’ll keep it going, shape it up a bit. Keep it healthy.”

Personally, I’m a fan of facial hair. Mostly because it makes me look fifteen if I go clean shaven. My first foray into facial hair came at the suggestion of an Ex (If you know me, 80% of my stories begin with, “I had an Ex…”) to grow it out. So, I started with a simple jawline beard, because if I let it grow on my neck it becomes a patchy disaster, highlighted by the dead spot underneath my chin where I have zero hair follicles. Then in October, I decided to change my look into a goatee with sideburns after ten months of having the same look.

So, much like Love’s girlfriend last season, who also encouraged him to grow it, I started grow out mine at the suggestion of a female friend as well. However, I’ve learned that the female camp is a little split on the beard or no beard issue, but I’ve held on to mine since it’s annoying as a twenty four old to be asked what high school you go to. I’m not a stubborn or uncompromising person by any means, but I know I’m better off with than without it. Besides, once you do shave it off after a while you look in the mirror, horrified, asking yourself, “WHAT HAVE I DONE TO MY BEAUTIFUL FACE?!”

And that leads us to tonight where, despite what my opening paragraphs would have you believe, there will be basketball played. You’re in luck, too, because I’ve watched a decent amount of Rockets basketball on League Pass this season, and since this is a basketball blog, I’ll share with you some things that I’ve learned.

Jim Croce May Not Have Messed Around With Jim, But You Shouldn’t Mess with Omer Asik. 

Yes, much like Croce’s song, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, you sure as heck don’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you damn sure don’t mess with Asik. Don’t be deceived by Asik’s 102 Defensive Rating since he spends so much time playing next to guys like James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and other underwhelming defensive players. So far this season, Asik already has 1.1 Defensive Win Shares, despite his teammates.

In addition to his defense, he is fourth in the NBA in Total Rebounding Percentage and among the leaders in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. All of this makes the matchup with Nikola Pekovic very important, since he’s had some big games leading in Love’s absence. It sure won’t be easy.

Asik isn’t an elite offensive player by any stretch of the imagination, he’s still an average finisher at the rim for a big man and won’t every win a beauty contest for his shooting. But he can still convert enough to justify him being on the floor. Which is good for the Rockets since they like to run him in the pick ‘n’ roll with Lin and Harden, and defenses early in the season didn’t bat an eye with Asik as the roll man since he was not much of a threat to finish on offense whatsoever. Now, defenses just can’t trap the guard off of the screen every single time.

Harden and Lin Get Them Points, But They Give A Lot Back. 

Top 5 Rockets Lineups with Lin-Harden and Points Per Possession Scored: 1.02; 1.03; 1.08 1.14; 1.08

Nice, huh?

Now check out the PPP allowed with those same five linueups: 1.07; 0.97; 0.98; 0.98; 1.05

You may think the three middle lineups aren’t that bad, and they aren’t terrible, but 1) They don’t play together nearly as often as the first (The first lineup has 320 minutes together and the second has just 90.); 2) The next two lineups have a PPP allowed of 1.05 and 1.06. Yeah, the Rockets have defensive issues, but they’ve managed to offset that by scoring more– a result of time playing together.

Rockets Month-by-Month Points Per Game vs Points Allowed Per Game: 

October: 105.0-96.0 (1 game)

November: 101.9 — 101.9 (14 games)

December: 110.8 — 105.2 (12 games)

Yeesh, right? Part of this is prominently featuring young players like Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, and Marcus Morris. Harden for instance can be easily disoriented by a defense that sets good screens, freeing up his man for easy looks (Hey, Alexey Shved…). The Rockets also consider Toney Douglas an NBA player, so that’s another issue entirely.

Offensively, when this team is firing, they can be very good, and the Wolves will need to continue their good defensive play against the Rockets tonight.

Wait– Who Is In the Game for Houston? 

The Houston bench has turned into a decent one. They have Greg Smith who is shooting 64.5% over the course of 22 games, and Marcus Morris who is very effective in the flow of the offense. Together, they give Houston some depth, and are able to stretch the floor as well. Can’t forget about guys like Carlos Delfino and Daequan Cook, who aren’t having great seasons, but have been the typical kind of player to bomb the Timberwolves from deep in seasons past.

There will be beards. There will be basketball. There may be beer (Not for me since I’ll be at work, though). And there may be– well, never mind.

Projected Starting Fives: 

Jeremy Lin — PG — Luke Ridnour

James Harden — SG — Alexey Shved

Chandler Parsons — SF — Andrei Kirilenko

Marcus Morris — PF — Kevin Love

Omer Asik — C — Nikola Pekovic

About Derek James

In addition to writing for Howlin' T-Wolf, Derek James writes about basketball Hardwood Paroxysm in the ESPN TrueHoop Network and covers the Charlotte Bobcats for SB Nation’s Rufus on Fire. Andray Blatche and Isaiah Rider follow him on Twitter.

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