April 13, 2018, 4:43 pm
The excitement hasn’t subsided yet as the team, the organization and the fans are all still buzzing about the wild game on Wednesday night, perhaps the most important regular season game in franchise history.
It’s uncharted territory for many parties involved. For the fans it’s been 14 years, a generation of Wolves’ fans don’t even remember the last time the team made it this far. For the players, more than half of the roster haven’t experienced a playoff series. For the organization, they’ve been more concerned about the draft process, and arena renovations, at this point than playoff prep.
After that fateful game where thousands of people were on their feet losing their minds as the clock finally ticked zero, everyone was on the same page. Playoff basketball is back in Minnesota.
Their assignment? The best team in the NBA, the Houston Rockets.
The Wolves and Rockets met four times this season, with Houston taking all four matchups by an average margin of victory of 15.8 points per game. That’s the bad news. The good news? Well there isn’t much, but the Wolves did look better each time out against the Rockets.
After four games against one team there are no more secrets, both teams know exactly what the other is going to do. The Rockets are going to rain as many 3-pointers as possible, while the Wolves are going to try to slow the pace down to a halt.
When the Wolves were at their best, though, they were kicking up the pace just a bit and playing into the Rockets’ game. Given the volume of shots the Rockets take, if teams play a slower pace they will eventually drown in the downpour of 3-pointers the Rockets make.
That’s what happened in the first three meetings between these teams. The Wolves have an excellent offense, ranking fourth in the league, and they were scoring at a good clip in each game, but their own pace just couldn’t keep up with the Rockets. The Wolves were the tortoise while the Rockets were the rabbit, except this rabbit didn’t take any breaks.
The final matchup, where the Wolves lost by just nine points, they picked up the pace just a little bit. They were down big after the first quarter, but from there just started attacking and were able to climb back into the game.
Turning up the pace might be advantageous, but unlikely given the way they’ve operated all season. Above all, the Wolves just need to make shots. The Rockets are a relentless offense that will just keep coming. They’re not going to make everything, relying more on volume that accuracy. When they go through offensive lulls, the Wolves need to be ready to capitalize on offense.
The best player against the Rockets this year has been Karl-Anthony Towns, who averaged nearly 24 points and 15 rebounds on 57 percent shooting against the Rockets. Having been matched-up against Clint Capela wasn’t an issue for him either, despite Capela being one of the top post defenders in the NBA.
The Wolves would be wise to throw it into Towns as often as possible, not only because of his dominance, but because most of the rest of the team has struggled to score against the tough Houston defense.
Jimmy Butler averaged just 16 points on 40 percent shooting, while Andrew Wiggins also averaged 16 points but on fewer than 40 percent shooting. Jeff Teague was excellent with 18 points per game on 54 percent shooting, certainly the best help Towns received.
Minnesota certainly needs another player to step up and make shots consistently, ideally Butler or Wiggins. All four players mentioned above will likely average over 40 minutes per game, and the big three will probably rarely see the bench, save for foul trouble.
The focal point for the Wolves should be Towns, though. Tom Thibodeau will lean heavily on Butler, but KAT is the guy that gives the Wolves their best shot. After every missed shot for the Rockets, the Wolves should be setting up Towns on the block or the elbow. They haven’t been able to stop Towns over four games, find out if they can solve it now.
It sounds trivial, and obvious, but the best chance teams have to stop the Rockets is scoring when they’re not. The shots will eventually go in for them, and playing catch-up against their 3-point barrage is nearly impossible. Squandering opportunities to create separation is the difference between winning and losing.
Towns gives the Wolves the best chance to put some pressure on the top seeded team in the West.
It’s a steep hill to climb, but not impossible. Remember back in 2007, the Dallas Mavericks dominated the NBA to a 67-15 record and faced off with the Golden State Warriors, who just made it into the playoffs with a 42-20 record and a five-game win streak to close out the season. “We Believe” was the mantra.
They became the first team to top a one-seed in NBA history.
It’s sports, anything is possible, as the great Kevin Garnett would say.
Karl-Anthony Towns – C: 82 games, 35.6 min, 21.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.9 turnovers, 0.9 steals, 1.4 blocks, 1.5 3-pointers, 59.6 eFG, 113.6 o-rating, 107.7 d-rating, 22.9 usage rate
Jimmy Butler – G: 59 games, 36.7 min, 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 2.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 1.2 3-pointers, 51.2 eFG, 113.3 o-rating, 105.1 d-rating, 25.1 usage rate
Andrew Wiggins – F: 82 games, 36.3 min, 17.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, 1.4 3-pointers, 48.1 eFG, 111.0 o-rating, 107.6 d-rating, 23.2 usage rate
James Harden – G: 72 games, 35.4 min, 30.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists, 4.4 turnovers, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 3.7 3-pointers, 54.1 eFG, 114.6 o-rating, 104.7 d-rating, 36.1 usage rate
Chris Paul – G: 58 games, 31.8 min, 18.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 1.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 2.5 3-pointers, 55.0 eFG, 116.6 o-rating, 103.8 d-rating, 24.8 usage rate
Clint Capela – C: 74 games, 27.5 min, 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.4 turnovers, 0.8 steals, 1.9 blocks, 0.0 3-pointers, 65.2 eFG, 113.2 o-rating, 104.1 d-rating, 19.4 usage rate
(emphasis indicates team leader)
First to Four
Game 1: Sunday, April 15 at 8:00 pm CT in Houston on TNT
Game 2: Wednesday, April 18 at 8:30 pm CT in Houston on TNT
Game 3: Saturday, April 21 at 6:30 pm CT in Minneapolis on ESPN
Game 4: Monday, April 23 at 7:00 pm CT in Minneapolis on TNT
*Game 5: Wednesday, April 25 at TBD in Houston
*Game 6: Friday, April 27 at TBD in Minneapolis
*Game 7: Sunday, April 29 at TBD in Houston
– Houston wins 4-1
– Minnesota wins game three.
– Jimmy Butler triple-doubles once.
– Karl-Anthony Towns averages 25 points, 15 rebounds.
– James Harden averages 30-8-8.
– The Wolves’ bench collectively plays less than 240 total minutes in the series (out of a possible 1200 in five games), or just 20 percent of total minutes.
April 25, 2019, 11:00 pmJakob Poeltl - C - San Antonio Spurs
Jakob Poeltl shot 4-for-6 from the field for eight points with nine boards, two assists and one block in 28 minutes for a 120-103 win over the Nuggets in Game 6 on Thursday.
Poeltl was not able to shut down Nikola Jokic (43 points) but it didn't matter, as the Spurs shot 57.1 percent from the field to blow out the Nuggets. The Spurs will head to Denver for a winner-take-all affair in Game 7 on Saturday.
April 25, 2019, 10:54 pmGary Harris - G - Denver Nuggets
Gary Harris scored 14 points in Game 6 against the Spurs on Thursday night as the Nuggets fell 120-103.
Harris scored a few points in this one but didn't do a whole lot else. The Nuggets will probably need him to have more of a visible imprint on the game to make major noise.
April 25, 2019, 10:53 pmDerrick White - G - San Antonio Spurs
Derrick White shot 4-for-7 from the floor for 13 points with one rebound, two assists, two blocks and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes against the Nuggets on Thursday.
White wasn't particularly effective on the stat sheet in Game 6, but his grit and solid defense helped the Spurs secure a win on their home floor. He limited his turnovers to just one in this game. White will need to stay efficient in a decisive Game 7 on Saturday in Denver.
April 25, 2019, 10:49 pmPaul Millsap - F - Denver Nuggets
Paul Millsap was almost a non-factor on Thursday night scoring just 12 points and adding four boards in heavy minutes.
Millsap has to be better for this team to make any major noise deep in the playoffs. He just hasn't been back to his normal self for long stretches this year, so here's to hoping he can find form.
April 25, 2019, 10:49 pmRudy Gay - F - San Antonio Spurs
Rudy Gay shot 7-for-11 for 19 points with four boards, two assists, two blocks and three 3-pointers in 28 minutes against the Nuggets on Thursday.
After being a non-factor for much of the series, Gay played extra efficient as a savvy veteran on Thursday night. He led the bench in scoring and helped set the tone to force a Game 7. Gay will need another game like this if the Spurs want any chance of surviving in Denver.
April 25, 2019, 10:43 pmDeMar DeRozan - G - San Antonio Spurs
DeMar DeRozan shot 12-for-16 from the field for 25 points with seven assists and seven boards in 36 minutes to force a Game 7 against the Nuggets on Thursday.
DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points and 10 rebounds) took it to the Nuggets for their final home game of the opening round. For a team not making much noise in the regular season, all eyes will be on the Spurs and Nuggets Game 7 on Saturday. Never count out Pop and the Spurs.
April 25, 2019, 10:42 pmJamal Murray - G - Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray scored just 16 points (7-of-19 from the floor) on Thursday in the Game 6 loss to the Spurs.
Murray was quiet in this one as the Nuggets tried to close it out. He did manage six assists but Nikola Jokic is going to need some help from his supporting cast to cement a date with Portland.
April 25, 2019, 10:37 pmNikola Jokic - C - Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic scored a career-high 43 points and approached a triple-double with 12 rebounds and nine assists in Thursday's Game 6 loss.
It was a waste of a great performance from Jokic as the Nuggets couldn't close out the Spurs in Game 6. Home cookin' might be just what the doctor ordered.
April 25, 2019, 10:34 pmLaMarcus Aldridge - F - San Antonio Spurs
LaMarcus Aldridge shot 10-for-18 from the field for 26 points with 10 boards, five assists, one block and one 3-pointer in 37 minutes to avoid elimination against the Nuggets on Thursday.
Aldridge was terrific all night, using home court advantage to play with energy. He took matters into his own hands, forcing a Game 7 on Saturday in Denver. Expect Aldridge to be giving his best effort on a winner-take-all affair.
April 25, 2019, 5:58 pmJeff Hornacek - Team - New York Knicks
The Kings have interviewed Jeff Hornacek for an assistant coach position.
The Kings have already hired their head coach, Luke Walton. However, with Walton's status up in the air with the recent allegations made against him, the Kings would do well to hire an assistant with head coaching experience. Hornacek last coached for the Knicks before being fired at the end of the 2017-2018 season. His overall record as head coach for the Knicks and the Suns is 161-216.
Source: James Ham on Twitter