The Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets could not be more different in how they got to this first round matchup. The Timberwolves, who finally broke a 13-year playoff drought, had to win in overtime in the last night of the regular season to get in. The Houston Rockets, on the other hand, have seemingly had a playoff spot locked since opening night. Regardless, the two will meet up for game one when the Timberwolves (47-35, 8th seed) travel to the Toyota Center to take on the Rockets (65-17, 1st seed) Sunday night with a tipoff time of 9:00 pm ET.
The spread comes in at the Minnesota Timberwolves +11 and the Houston Rockets -11. The over/under for total points scored is set at 216.5.
Minnesota Looks to Play Spoiler
As mentioned, it took a 112-106 overtime win over the Denver Nuggets in the last game of the regular season for the Timberwolves to make the playoffs. Now, as a reward for breaking their 13-year drought, they now get to face the best team in the league during the regular season.
The Timberwolves have talent. Between Jimmy Butler (22.2 points), Karl-Anthony Towns (21.3 points, 12.3 rebounds) and Andrew Wiggins (17.7 points), they have a core that can compete on most nights. The problem is, as a team, they don’t play particularly good defense (ranked 28th defensively according to basketball-reference.com) and they are going against a team that create tons of matchup problems and can get scoring, especially from the three, from so many players.
For the Timberwolves to have a chance, they are going to have to hope that Jimmy Butler can contain James Harden, that Karl-Anthony Towns plays the series of his life and that they get a little bit of luck in the form of the Rockets struggling to shoot from the field. Given the unlikelihood of getting even two of the three, they are going to have their hands full.
Rockets Hopes Hot Season Carries Over to Playoffs
The Houston Rockets have been one of the hottest teams on the planet this year. They finished the season 65-17 and ended up locking the first seed in the Western Conference by seven games over the defending NBA champions, Golden State Warriors. They come into the playoffs 7-3 over their last 10 games, but they also come in rested, as in their last game James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Trever Ariza, Nene and Ryan Anderson did not play. They hope to make quick work of the Timberwolves in what seems to be a very favorable matchup for the Rockets.
Houston has gotten sensational play all season long from guard James Harden. This season he has averaged 30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game. He has also shot 44.9% from the field and 36.7% from the three. Those numbers put him in line as one of the top contenders for this year’s Most Valuable Player award.
One of the biggest stories this year, and reasons for their success, has been the play of both Harden and Chris Paul, who is playing in his first year as a Rocket. Acquired in the offseason, there was some concern as to how the two would mesh, but Paul has played well alongside Harden this season, averaging 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.9 assists.
Between the two of them, they have the best backcourt in the NBA. Additionally, they have gotten solid play from midseason acquisition Gerald Green (12.1 points), last year’s 6th man of the year Eric Gordon (18 points), and center Clint Capela (13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds).
Rockets Top Timberwolves
Admittedly, when I first looked at the matchup I had a tough time spotting the Timberwolves 11 points, but when looking at the matchups, that is exactly what I am doing. The Rockets are 4-0 against the Timberwolves this year and in those four victories, their margin of victory has been 18, 18, 18 and 9. Needless to say, Minnesota and their defensive woes will have their hands full with the Rockets, who are rated 1st in adjusted offensive rating (according to basketball-reference.com). Take the Rockets at -11.