The Timberwolves didn’t have it all their own way against the Kings on Sunday, but managed to rally in the last quarter to run out 111-106 winners. Karl-Anthony Towns continued his excellent form with 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists. They are now 35-24, and in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, just half a game behind the Spurs.
The Rockets are coming off a game in which they were a little off on the offensive end by their standards, but still managed to run out 104-97 winners. Chris Paul was their best player with 25 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. They remain hot on the heels of the Warriors in second place in the west and have a record of 42-13, just one game back from Golden State.
Three keys to the game
Offense vs offense - These teams rank second and third in the NBA in offensive rating, sitting behind only the Warriors for points scored per 100 possessions. The Rockets’ sit at 113.1, while Minnesota’s is slightly lower at 111.8. Regardless, the implication is clear - both sides can score.
3-pointers vs 2-pointers - Despite yielding similar results, the way these teams score is vastly different. Houston take significantly more 3-pointers than any other team in the league, and indeed in history, putting up 42.6 per game. In contrast, the Timberwolves are dead last in 3-point attempts - their 22.2 per game is slightly over half what the Rockets take.
Points off turnovers - Minnesota score a lot of points off turnovers. At 18.5 per game, they are behind only OKC in this category. Houston generally take care of the ball reasonably well, with only 14% of their offensive possessions resulting in turnovers - eighth in the league - but when they do give it up they don’t defend particularly well. Their 16.1 points allowed off turnovers per game is in the bottom half of the NBA, despite their high ranking on turnovers.
Matchup to watch
Karl-Anthony Towns vs Clint Capela - Despite scoring five points per game less than last season, Towns has been rewarded with an All-Star position for his efforts this year. His 20.1 points per game is a significant regression, but he is getting less looks, and has become a lethal 3-point shooter, hitting 42.2% of shots from beyond the arc. In his last five games, he is averaging 23.8 points and hitting a huge 63.1% of 3-point attempts, including a 6-6 and a 3-3 game.
Capela, in contrast, scores almost purely in the paint, having developed himself into one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the league. His 14.5 points per game is well below Towns’ average, but just two games ago he scored 23 points and had 25 rebounds in 28 minutes of action. This will be an intriguing battle between two talented young centers with vastly different games.
Minnesota Timberwolves predicted starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Andrew Wiggins | SF - Jimmy Butler | PF - Taj Gibson | C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | SF - Luc Mbah a Moute | PF - PJ Tucker | C - Clint Capela
Despite suffering an 18-point loss, Towns was enormous when these two sides met earlier in the season. He filled the stats sheet with 22 points, 16 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a huge five blocks, and the Timberwolves were +2 for the 37 minutes he was on the floor - meaning they lost the other 11 minutes by 20 points.
Harden struggled in that game, going 3-15 from the field for ten points, and Houston were -11 when he was on the floor. In 29 career games against the Timberwolves though, he has been a little better. In these matchups he averages 21.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.7 steals.
On the road, Houston have been given very slight favoritism. They have been handicapped 2.5 points, and as good as Minnesota are at home, it’s hard to bet against them. The Timberwolves defense won’t be able to stop the Rockets elite offense.
Strap yourselves in for what will no doubt be a highly entertaining game. Both sides boast supremely talented offenses, and the likes of Harden, Paul, Towns and Butler going head-to-head is a mouth-watering prospect.
Butler is in great form and will continue this with a 25+ point game, while Towns will also score in that vicinity in a period in which he is scoring with extreme efficiency. With Paul and Harden running the backcourt though, and a better defense, Houston should be able to get over the line. In a high-scoring game, they’ll run away late in the fourth to win 118-112.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.