Houston Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/21/18
The Rockets can take another big step toward the next round if they can get a road win in Game 3 against the reeling Timberwolves.
The Houston Rockets are halfway toward a sweep of the Minnesota Timberwolves. After getting pushed all the way in Game 1, the Rockets reasserted their dominance over the Wolves as they romped to a 102-82 win in Game 2. It was telling that they won by such a huge margin even with superstar James Harden scoring just 12 points as he went a horrific 2-of-18 from the field. Backcourt mate Chris Paul picked up the slack with 27 points and eight assists. Meanwhile, Gerald Green chipped in with a strong 21-point, 12-rebound double-double off the bench.
Meanwhile, the bad news for Minnesota was that Karl-Anthony Towns still hasn’t gotten going. After just eight points in 40 minutes in Game 1, KAT was limited to five points on nine shots in 24 minutes. Jimmy Butler also remained unproductive as he went for just 11 points on six shot attempts. Nemanja Bjelica was the team’s leading scorer with 16 points in 18 minutes off the bench, but most of that came during garbage time, which was basically the entire second half.
Three keys to the game
KAT and Jimmy Buckets – It’s simple for the Timberwolves: they need their two best players to play a lot better or they will go down a 3-0 hole. It’s understandable for Butler to not be quite at his best as he is just a few weeks removed from a long layoff, but KAT’s playoff disappearance has been baffling and disappointing after seeing how well he played during the regular season. No matter what the Timberwolves do, their fate ultimately rests on their two stars playing up to par.
James Harden bounce-back game – Harden had an almighty regression game after his 44-point explosion in Game 1. Luckily for him, his teammates are good, and they were able to deliver a comfortable victory in his rare off-night. Obviously, though, the soon-to-be-MVP likely will not be as bad for a second-straight game. That doesn’t bode well for the Timberwolves, who don’t seem to have too many answers for the other Rockets, much less Harden.
Bench battle – In Game 1, the Timberwolves got a combined 31 points out of their two veteran bench guards, Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford. In Game 2, They got just half that (17) and were summarily run right off the floor. Again, nothing really matters for Minnesota until KAT and Butler play like stars again. But they could use more of the same production off the bench, especially with the Rockets’ reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon yet to get going in this series.
Matchup to watch
James Harden vs Jimmy Butler – What was supposed to be a marquee matchup between two of the top players in the game has not materialized in large part due to Butler’s ineffectiveness. Harden will probably bounce back from his poor Game 2, but can Butler do the same? It will be worth watching the two of them to find out.
Rockets projected starting lineup
PG – Chris Paul | SG – James Harden | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – PJ Tucker | C – Clint Capela
Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG – Jeff Teague | SG – Jimmy Butler | SF – Andrew Wiggins | PF – Taj Gibson | C – Karl-Anthony Towns
While Gerald Green’s impressive Game 2 was a welcome surprise, chances are that Paul, Harden, and Clint Capela will be the three Rockets players of note fantasy-wise. Harden, as previously mentioned, isn’t going to go 2-of-18 again. Eric Gordon could be a sneaky outside pick, although he’s mired in a horrific shooting slump, it feels like a matter of time before he shoots himself out of it.
As for the T-Wolves, it’s hard to know which players to trust from a fantasy perspective. There just hasn’t been any standout performer over the first two games. Towns might have the best shot at bouncing back at home, although that’s hardly a given. It might just be best to stay away from any Wolves players in fantasy until they can prove their worth once again.
As poorly as Towns and Butler have played, there’s a decent chance they play like stars in Game 3. But the sad part is that even if they do play like studs, there’s a chance they still lose big to the Rockets, who are just that good. That’s exactly what ends up happening as Houston wins and covers as 5.0-point road favorites.
The Rockets put the Timberwolves into a 3-0 hole as they get the 121-112 road win.
This game will be broadcast on ESPN. Tip-off is at 7:30 pm Eastern.