April 15, 2018, 6:23 pm
You wake up to the alarm clock going off. It’s been about seven months since you went to sleep. After watching a few games in the opening week of the NBA, you decided to rest during the regular season and wish to jump straight to the playoffs (maybe waking up after midnight to peek at the trade deadline moves).
For years it’s been a safe call with the Golden State Warriors and the LeBron’s (whichever city he temporarily resided in) dominating their respective conferences, and little variance up and down the standings. The playoffs, and even the offseason, has been where most of the action takes place.
You roll over, grab your phone to check the playoff matchups and surprise! The Wolves are in the playoffs?! The Pelicans made it too, and the Jazz somehow finished fifth. The Process finished ahead of the King? We the North looks down upon them all!
This year there was non-stop NBA action with new blood planting their flag, game-changing injuries and an excellent rookie class contributing to one of the better regular seasons in recent memory. There were plenty of unexpected results, but perhaps most shocking of all is seeing the Rockets with the most wins in the league, ahead of the Warriors.
As the eighth seed in the Western Conference the Wolves face the daunting task of the number one seed. After just assuming the Warriors locked that up before the season started the Rockets busted through and took hold, finishing seven games ahead of the Warriors.
It may sound like a blessing, not having to face the Warriors, but in reality this was the worst matchup the Wolves could have drawn. The Rockets were the only team in the West the Wolves did not beat. They were swept in four games, losing by an average margin of 15.8 points per game.
The Wolves were 13-9 against the other six playoff teams.
Houston’s offense is the carrying force for this team. They finished the year with a 112.2 offensive rating, just behind the Warriors’ 112.3 for tops in the NBA. Against the Wolves their offensive rating was astronomical at nearly 130.
The Wolves were helpless against the downpour of 3-pointers from the Rockets, with Houston making more than 17 per game in their four meetings, while the Wolves made just 8.5 per game. Outside of that most of the numbers for both teams are surprisingly close. Rebounding, field goal percentage, assists, turnovers are tight, which is to be expected given the Wolves have one of the better offenses in the NBA as well. Their 110.8 offensive rating ranks fourth. The Wolves simply have struggled to contain the shots beyond the arc.
It’s no easy task as the Rockets play that style by design. They draw and kick to the arc more than any other team. In transition they seek 3-point shots. It’s a team mandate and they all stick to it. When they aren’t shooting three’s, they have two of the best isolation players in the NBA with Chris Paul and James Harden.
They are one of the toughest teams in the NBA to defend and the Wolves matchup poorly with them, particularly at the power-forward position. The Wolves run Taj Gibson out there and the Rockets almost always counter with a deep shooting threat, and Gibson has a hard time getting out to shooters consistently.
Ryan Anderson and P.J. Tucker have particularly been a major thorn in the side. Anderson has made 12-of-24 of his 3-pointers versus the Wolves this season, while Tucker is 10-of-18. The good news? Anderson is expected to miss this opening game. Tucker is still healthy, though, and is a far superior defender to Anderson.
Nothing will be easy for the Wolves. Defending the Rockets is a tall task that is probably futile in the end. The best chance for the Wolves is probably to turn up the offensive pace and try to outscore them, which would require a drastic change in philosophy for Tom Thibodeau, and Jimmy Butler.
It might not play out in game 1 (never say never), but the Wolves’ played their style for four games against the Rockets this season and it flat-out wasn’t even close to working. If the Wolves are serious about winning this series they need to change things up a bit. Give Towns the ball as often as possible, run in the open floor, let Wiggins attack the basket, utilize Teague in pick-and-rolls.
It’s likely the Wolves will run out a heavy dose of Jimmy Butler, which is fair. That’s what Thibs brought him here for. Butler has averaged over 40 minutes per game in the playoffs, and with the long layoffs between games it’s likely Butler, and others, will see multiple games with 48 minutes.
But in this matchup, his dribble heavy, isolation offense will get eaten alive by the Rockets. Butler was creating late in the Denver Nuggets matchup and the Wolves were scoring nearly every possession. The Wolves need more of that. A collective team effort with everyone involved and a quickened pace. With some luck, they may be able to pull of a win or two.
That will be the major things to look out for. Do the Wolves make significant changes to their offensive approach? Or do they say “we’re just happy to be here and do our own thing” en route to a four-game sweep?
If you missed the playoff series primer with predictions, full schedule and key statistics, check that out here.
Jeff Teague – PG
Jimmy Butler – SG
Andrew Wiggins – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Chris Paul – PG
James Harden – SG
Trevor Ariza – SF
P.J. Tucker – PF
Clint Capela – C
Ryan Anderson (ankle) – QUESTIONABLE
Luc Mbah a Moute (shoulder) – OUT
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
When: 8:00 pm CT
How: Fox Sports North and TNT
April 22, 2019, 12:42 amRussell Westbrook - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook went 5-for-21 from the field to finish with 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two treys in Sunday's 98-111 Game 4 loss to the Blazers.
Time and again in this series, it's been evident that Damian Lillard has been playing at a higher level than Westbrook and tonight was a fine example. Lillard was able to shake off his early shooting struggles and come up big in the second half, but Westbrook was still forcing shots and appeared to be on the back foot for most of the game. He's best when he's the one taking it to his opponents. A reactive Westbrook is simply not the star the Thunder need right now, if they want to salvage any hopes of coming back in this first-round series.
April 22, 2019, 12:36 amDennis Schroder - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Dennis Schroder mirrored his 17-point performance from Friday with another 17-point game in Sunday's loss to the Blazers.
Schroder shot 6-of-12 from the field and added three rebounds, three assists, two 3s and one steal to the box score tonight. Aside from him though, the Thunder's bench was deafeningly quiet. He cannot carry the load of the second unit's scoring output by his lonesome, especially when they're faced up against a team with multiple weapons like the Blazers. For now, the Thunder can only hope he keeps this up and that the other reserves will follow suit.
April 22, 2019, 12:32 amJerami Grant - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerami Grant made just 4-of-10 shots from the field on Sunday to finish with 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three triples and two steals in 34 minutes.
Grant's impact on the defensive end has been invaluable to the Thunder in this series and it was nice to see him active on the glass tonight, especially with Steven Adams being relatively quiet on that front with seven boards while adding six points, one assist, one steal and one block. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Portland's forwards, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu outplayed and out-hustled them on both ends of the floor.
April 22, 2019, 12:27 amPaul George - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite being slowed down by turnovers and foul trouble, Paul George still managed to light up the box score in Sunday's loss to the Blazers with 32 points on 8-of-21 shooting, 10 rebounds, six assists, four 3s, one steal and one block.
George has been banged up as early as March and he's been such a trooper, powering through a bothersome shoulder to lead the Thunder in this first-round playoff series. Unfortunately, Damian Lillard and company have been far too much for OKC to handle and George's big nights have come and gone with a lack of ample support to properly contest for the win.
April 22, 2019, 12:23 amMaurice Harkless - F - Trail Blazers
Maurice Harkless had a swell two-way performance in the Blazers' 111-98 Game 4 win over the Thunder on Sunday, posting 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, adding 10 rebounds, one triple, two steals and three blocks in 34 minutes.
Harkless was mostly a non-factor in fantasy during the regular season due to injuries. He's clearly feeling much better now and is delivering for the Blazers at the right time. If he can keep up posting performances like this, the Blazers could emerge as a dark horse to upset favorites in the west.
April 22, 2019, 12:18 amAl-Farouq Aminu - F - Trail Blazers
Al-Farouq Aminu was feeling it on Sunday, hitting 4-of-9 shots from downtown to help secure a Game 4 win over the Thunder via his 19 points (7-of-16 shooting), nine rebounds, one steal and one block.
The Blazers found an extra kick from Aminu tonight thanks to his hot hand. He's capable of explosions like this from time to time but they're not very consistent, making him a tough player to bank on in playoff DFS. Enes Kanter was relatively quiet as he put up eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
April 22, 2019, 12:15 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum kept his foot on the gas pedal on Sunday, raining down five 3s on the Thunder en route to his team-high 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting, while adding four rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks.
McCollum is heating up at just the right time for the Blazers and he picked up some of the slack while Damian Lillard was struggling early in the first half. When he and multiple Blazers are able to put up full lines like this, Portland becomes a devastating opponent, even if the opposing team has name-brand superstars in the form of Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
April 22, 2019, 12:09 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard overcame a rough start in Sunday's game vs. the Thunder, found his game in the second half and was able to wind up finishing with 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 shooting from the line.
Lillard has proven to be a true superstar in this series, managing to shake off a slow start to be able to deliver when his team needed the jolt on offense. He added four 3s, three rebounds, eight dimes and one steal to round out his line for the night. Despite Oklahoma City's best efforts, Lillard would not be denied. His ability to turn on a switch and take over a game makes him one of the Western Conference's most dangerous players.
April 21, 2019, 10:15 pmTerrence Ross - G/F - Orlando Magic
Terrence Ross could not get it going offensively in Sunday's 85-107 Game 4 loss to the Raptors on Sunday, recording just five points on 1-of-5 shooting (1-of-4 from deep) with two rebounds, three assists and one steal in 31 minutes.
This was a big blow for both the Magic and Ross' owners in DFS. He was coming off a solid 24-point gem on Friday, so this dud came as a bit of a surprise. In the end, costly turnovers and ill-timed fouls helped keep Ross from exploding like he's done in the past. Evan Fournier helped pick up the slack with 19 points (8-of-16 shooting), four rebounds, two 3s, two dimes and one steal in 35 minutes, but it still was not enough to go toe-to-toe with Kawhi Leonard and company in this crucial Game 4.
April 21, 2019, 10:10 pmAaron Gordon - F - Orlando Magic
Aaron Gordon shot 10-of-17 from the field to finish with 25 points, seven rebounds, five dimes, two 3s and one steal in Sunday's Game 4 loss to the Raptors.
Gordon was limited in the first half but turned up the heat in the third quarter where he scored 16 of his team-high 25 points. Unfortunately, his spirited play was not enough to mount a serious enough rally to challenge the Raptor's control over the game. The 23-year-old Gordon has displayed a fresh level of maturity in this series and finally looks prepared to make a significant leap forward in 2019-20.