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    Basketball is back. After a week long hiatus and much needed rest, the Wolves must be ready to dive head-long into the final stages of the season. With only a quarter of the schedule remaining and hanging onto the fourth seed by a thread, Minnesota can’t afford many slip ups.

    They will be tested right out of the gate with a tough matchup in Houston with the now fully-healthy Rockets. In the two prior meetings the Rockets were missing Trevor Ariza, and both James Harden and Chris Paul were recovering from various injuries, though still in the lineup.

    In both meetings, the Rockets won by 18 points and thoroughly dominated the Wolves’ from beyond the 3-point line. These offenses rank second and third in the league, but the Rockets have managed to make the Wolves look like a non-contender.

    The key to slowing down the Rockets is literally slowing down their pace. Their philosophy is a modified version of Paul Westhead’s style of basketball, an endless stream of threes and as quick as possible. The idea is the more you take the more you make.

    With Paul in the fold the Rockets slowed themselves down marginally, but they still launch 3-pointers at an unrelenting pace hoping to have the law of averages catch up in their favor.

    The Wolves were actually able to find some success in repressing the barrage of 3-pointers in the last meeting. Through the first half, the Wolves were on pace to hold the Rockets under their season average of 3-point attempts. Through the third quarter the Rockets started taking more but the Wolves avoided the quick strike and stayed in the game.

    Of course in the fourth quarter the dam broke and the Target Center flooded thanks to Ryan Anderson and Harden. Within two minutes the Wolves went from trailing by four points to 16 and there was nothing else they could do. The Rockets couldn’t miss afterwards.

    The Wolves nearly managed to make a contest out of the Rockets on their own floor but couldn’t sustain it, now that they’re going on the road that task seems even more daunting. Minnesota has lost 10-of-11 on the road and just looked terrible going into the break.

    Maybe the long layoff will help the team clear the air a bit and get back on track. As mentioned above, there’s not much time to figure out their road-woes. With 21 games to go, and 11 on the road, the time is now.

    Key Matchup

    Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Clint Capela

    The two All-Stars for the Wolves must assert their dominance tonight. Despite Capela being a terrific defender, Towns has proven to be able to handle the matchup with ease. There aren’t many players out there who can stop Towns, and Capela isn’t one of them.

    It will benefit the Wolves to get some easy baskets in the paint from Towns, or slow the game down at the free-throw line to allow their defense to set up in the half court and at least force the Rockets to chew up some clock before they start launching deep shots.

    It’s a fool’s task believing there’s a way to prevent the Rockets from taking 3-pointers, but it is certainly possible to slow it down. One way to do that is attention to detail on defense and being ready every possession as opposed to scrambling in transition.

    The best way to prevent transition is making close baskets. If the Wolves feed Towns and shy away from playing into the Rocket’s game of shooting 3-pointers, there’s at least a chance.

    Going back to the Paul Westhead offense, part of his goal as a coach was to speed up the other team to force the tempo that favored his “run-and-gun” offense. He would do this by implementing a full-court press so the other team would hurry up and create chaos.

    The Rockets won’t implement a press, but they do attempt to speed teams up in other ways. Namely they lock down the paint and coax teams into long shots, which lead to long rebounds and transition offense and a frenzied, unorganized defense.

    Towns is the tank buster for that. Feeding him early and often is their best, and perhaps only, option. That is unless the Wolves are uncharacteristically on fire from beyond the arc. The Rockets would still probably win that shooting contest though.

    Lineups

    Jeff Teague – PG

    Jimmy Butler – SG

    Andrew Wiggins – SF

    Taj Gibson – PF

    Karl-Anthony Towns – C

    vs.

    Chris Paul – PG

    James Harden – SG

    Trevor Ariza – SF

    P.J. Tucker – PF

    Clint Capela – C

    Injuries

    Marcus Georges-Hunt (illness) – PROBABLE

    Trevor Ariza (hamstring) – PROBABLE

    Eric Gordon (knee) – OUT

    Media

    Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

    When: 8:00 ET/7:00 CT

    How: Fox Sports North and ESPN

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