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.