Houston have won their past ten games, the most recent of which was a 100-91 victory over the Kings. James Harden had 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the victory, which propelled their record to 44-13 - the best in the NBA. The Rockets are fighting it out with the Warriors for top spot in the Western Conference standings, well clear of the third-placed Spurs.
They will be hoping to go into outright first place when they host the Timberwolves on Friday. Minnesota are also coming off a victory, a 119-111 win over the Lakers. Taj Gibson had his most industrious game of the season, scoring 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting and grabbing eight rebounds. The Timberwolves sit in fourth place in the west with a record of 36-25.
Three keys to the game
Offense vs offense - These are two of the best offensive sides in the league, and will likely put up some very high scores in this game. Houston score 113.2 points per 100 possessions, behind only the Warriors, while the Timberwolves are just one spot back at 111.3. The difference, however, is that Minnesota are a bottom-five defense, while Houston are in the top ten in that category.
History - The Rockets haven’t had too many problems against the Timberwolves in the past couple of years. In two games this season, Houston won both by 18 points, the most recent of which was just last week. In four games last season, the Rockets won three of them, with the only loss coming on the back of 17 assists from Ricky Rubio, who is now at the Jazz.
Timberwolves in the paint - A rare area of weakness for the Rockets is their interior defense. They allow 47.6 points in the paint per game, which is less than only the Magic and the Lakers - not great company to be keeping. Minnesota score there pretty regularly, with their 48.3 points a night the sixth most in the league. Karl-Anthony Towns and Gibson will be looking to capitalize on this hole in the Rockets game.
Matchup to watch
Clint Capela vs Karl-Anthony Towns - Towns has been working with a lot less shots this season and is averaging nearly five points less per game than last term. In recent weeks, however, he has hit a streak of incredible efficiency. In eight games in February, he is averaging 23.4 points on just 13 shots, shooting at 60.4% from the floor and a huge 58.3% from beyond the arc. Defensively, however, he is still prone to lapses, and will need to be on guard against Clint Capela, who loves to cash in off the pick-and-roll brilliance of his two star point guards. Capela is averaging career highs in all major stats categories, contributing 14.4 points on 65.4% shooting, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per night. Just last week, he put up 23 points and 25 rebounds in 29 minutes.
Towns has been incredible in the past two seasons against Houston, dominating in all six of their matchups. In these games he averages 31 points while shooting 62% from the floor, grabbing a huge 17.5 rebounds, dishing out 3.7 assists, and also contributing 2.2 blocks and a steal a night. He has double-doubled in all six of these games, grabbed 15 or more rebounds in five of them, and had 30 or more points and three or more blocks in three of them. Not bad numbers.
The Timberwolves have been given an 8.5-point head start by oddsmakers in this game, and as tempting as it is to take them to cover it, Houston is a good bet here. The game will likely be close throughout, but such is the power of the Rockets’ offense, it takes only a few minutes of play for them to develop a double-figure lead. Expect them to cover this line.
This will be a high-scoring and highly entertaining game, with two teams renowned for excellent offense going head to head. Harden is unstoppable, and will put up 30 points and ten assists, while Capela will benefit from Towns’ questionable defense to put up a big game.
Towns himself has shown an extended period of incredible play against the Rockets, so expect him to once again put in a 25-plus point, 15-plus rebound effort in this game. It won’t be enough against a Houston team getting more impressive by the day though, and the Rockets will run out 121-111 victors in this game.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.