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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

Fantasy News

  • Nikola Vucevic
    C, Orlando Magic

    In an interview Wednesday, Magic head coach Steve Clifford said he could see Nikola Vucevic improving across all areas of his game, and echoing his player's belief that he is in his prime.

    One of the areas Clifford thought Vucevic could improve upon was his 3-point shooting percentage, and also seemed to indicate that he could contonue to up his play on defense. He's unquestionably solidified himself as the anchor of this team, and the Magic as a whole are likely eyeing to improve upon their momentum as a rising young playoff team in an Eastern Conference that looks pretty weak after the top four to five teams. Expect Vucevic to produce safe second-round value this season.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Deandre Ayton
    C, Phoenix Suns

    Suns General Manager James Jones said in a recent interview that Deandre Ayton is capable of playing PF if needed.

    One could chalk this up to either Ayton continuing his development in becoming a more dynamic offensive player, or the Suns covering up for the lack of depth on their roster at PF. In reality it's likley a mix of both, and is a positive for Ayton's value heading into this season. If he does end up spending meaningful time at the four, it would not bode well for the value of Dario Saric, who is already barely going at the end of drafts in 9-cat leagues.

    Source: NBA.com

  • DeMarcus Cousins
    C, Los Angeles Lakers

    The Lakers have been granted a $1.75 million Disabled Player Exception for DeMarcus Cousins (torn left ACL).

    This now officially rules DeMarcus Cousins out for the season. The Lakers will now have the ability to go out and acquire a player that will in all likelihood occupy the end of their bench. Because they signed Dwight Howard, using this cap space on a center isn't necessarily as big a priority as it once was when Cousins initially went down.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Mohamed Bamba
    C, Orlando Magic

    Mo Bamba will enter training camp second on the depth chart behind Nikola Vučević.

    Head coach of the Magic, Steve Clifford, told a reporter that he plans on having Bamba as his primary backup center while Khem Birch will be third on the depth chart. The Magic also have Vučević, who was re-signed in the offseason to a four-year, $100M contract. As long as Bamba is backing up Vučević, his fantasy ceiling is capped outside of standard redraft leagues.

    Source: NBA

  • Nerlens Noel
    C, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Brett Dawson of The Athletic believes that Nerlens Noel could see a slight bump in minutes if the Thunder limit Steven Adams' usage.

    Noel is a great per-minute producer of steals and blocks but only appeared in 13.7 minutes per contest last season. Additional playing time would make him more useful in deeper leagues.

    Source: Brett Dawson of The Athletic

  • Joel Embiid
    C, Philadelphia Sixers

    In a video, Joel Embiid announced that he lost about 25 pounds over the summer.

    Embiid is one of the best fantasy players around but has struggled at times with conditioning. The Sixers will gladly accept any improvements from last season's averages of 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds.

    Source: NBC Sports

  • TJ Warren
    SF, Indiana Pacers

    According to Pacers beat writer Scott Agness, Pacers forward T.J. Warren has no injury worries heading into the season.

    Warren has missed 56 games during the last two seasons, but he hopes to stay healthy for all of 2019-20. Warren is likely to start for the Pacers and could hold top-100 value if he can stay on the court.

    Source: Scott Agness on Twitter

  • Damian Lillard
    PG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard expects to play for Team USA during next year's Summer Olympics.

    Lillard skipped this year's World Cup but is planning to play in Tokyo. He should be a late first-round or early second-round fantasy pick this year.

    Source: news.com.au

  • Stephen Curry
    PG, Golden State Warriors

    Warriors guard Stephen Curry expects to play at next year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

    Curry will have a busy year ahead of him. Still, it's no surprise that many potential members of Team USA skipped this year's FIBA World Cup in favor of an Olympics appearance. Curry will be a popular early first-round pick in fantasy drafts.

    Source: ESPN

  • Isaiah Thomas
    PG, Washington Wizards

    Wizards guard Isaiah Thomas will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left thumb.

    This is rough news for the Wizards, who already have John Wall on the shelf. Thomas was a candidate to start at point guard, but instead he'll have to recover from yet another injury. Thomas averaged 8.1 points and 1.9 assists in limited action for the Nuggets last campaign.

    Source: Washington Wizards on Twitter