For the next few days, the FPC NBA staff will preview each NBA playoff series. Lastly, Ben Pfeifer previews the Rockets vs Timberwolves series.
This 1-8 matchup sees two teams who had lofty expectations. One team silenced all of their critics, dominating the NBA. They proved to the league that they are the best team in the NBA. The other team barely squeaked into the playoffs on the back of Taj Gibson and some bad Mike Malone playcalling. The Houston Rockets, led by James Harden and Chris Paul and MVP James Harden, finished with the best record in the NBA at 65-17. This year, the Rockets had a win streak of 17, dominating everyone in their path. They are led by Harden, who has averaged 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, 5.4 boards and 1.8 steals. Chris Paul has been a seamless second option and combined with all of their elite role players, make the Rockets one of the toughest teams in the NBA on both sides.
The Timberwolves, after acquiring Jimmy Butler, were expected to be a top team in the West. Although they were not a top three team, they did look like a surefire playoff team for most of the season. But after Jimmy Butler went down with an injury, their flaws were on full display. Their horrid defense caused them to almost fall out of the playoffs, sneaking in with a win over Denver on the last day of the season. Butler is healthy and back for the playoffs. He was the heart and soul of the Wolves this season. He averaged 22.2 points, 4.9 assists, and 5.3 boards, along with excellent defense. Karl Anthony-Towns was great on offense, averaging 21.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. Taj Gibson had the best season of his career, being the glue guy that Minnesota needed.
Keys To The Series
Timberwolves’ Pick and Roll Defense
The Rockets love to play the pick and roll. James Harden and Chris Paul are two of the top pick and roll players in the NBA. Houston ranks third in the NBA in points per possession in the pick and roll, with 0.93. Chris Paul’s 1.02 PPP is nothing to slouch at. Minnesota is in the middle of the NBA statistically guarding the pick and roll man, with 1.1 PPP. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are one of the worst pick and roll defense duos in the NBA; they have been disappointments in general on defense. Expect the Rockets to go at them all night in the pick and roll. If they want any chance in the series, the Wolves need to figure out the Rockets’ spread pick and roll.
Andrew Wiggins had a fairly disappointing season. Being the third option, his scoring numbers expected to drop. He averaged 17.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals. His efficiency was poor for a third option, shooting 43.8% from the field and 33.1% from three. His defense was especially poor. For a player with such great athleticism and length, you would expect him to be a prolific defender. He shows little effort on defense and very poor help side IQ. Wiggins had a poor defensive rating this year as well at 107.6.
Jimmy Butler will take the defensive responsibility of James Harden. No matter how great on defense Butler is, he will get beat from time to time by Harden. Wiggins needs to be in good position to play help defense. The Wolves are lacking in the defensive wing department. Butler is their only reliable wing defender. The Rockets have many players who can score, such as Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and Trevor Ariza. Wiggins will have to step up big time on defense if the Wolves want any chance in this series.
Karl-Anthony Towns vs Clint Capela
I already detailed how Towns is on offense. He is a versatile scorer; Towns can shoot, beat other bigs off of the dribble, and post up. On the other hand, Clint Capela has been the anchor of the Rockets’ defense this season and is a candidate for most improved player of the year. He averaged 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Capela is a very mobile big with good leaping ability. He should be able to keep up with Towns’ speed an quickness, making his life hard. Capela’s offensive game is nothing more than rolling to the rim, dunks, and putbacks, but he is very good at that. Capela is great in his positioning and Towns will need to keep track of him at all times on defense. Towns and Capela will be battling all series on offense, defense, and on the boards.
The Timberwolves have a very good team with three great players. However, their lack of depth and overall perimeter defense will plague them. The Rockets prolific offense will be just too much for Minnesota to handle. I would not be surprised if the Rockets scored 150 in one of the games. Rockets win in four.