Minnesota Timberwolves vs Houston Rockets: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/15/18

Minnesota are 3-0 since welcoming Jimmy Butler back into their team, but will his presence be enough for them to challenge the Rockets?

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The second-unit Rockets lineup lost their final game of the regular season 83-96 to the Kings, but it didn’t matter. They had already comfortably broken the franchise record for most wins in a season, and in doing so sewn up the number one seed in the west. Their 65-17 record was a huge seven wins more than any other Houston side had achieved in history and was largely a result of a revolutionary offense which saw them put up an extraordinary rate of 3-point attempts.

On Sunday they will play their first game of the playoffs against a Timberwolves side which crept into the post-season by the skin of their teeth. Minnesota hosted Denver in a regular season ‘win or go home’ game, and crept over the line in overtime with a 112-106. They’ll be big underdogs in this game but are a different proposition with Butler back in the lineup.

Three keys to the game

Butler’s influence – There was a clear drop off in performance for the Timberwolves after Butler went down with injury, and since he returned late in the season, they are 3-0. The most recent game against Denver was the first time he has played over 23 minutes since his return, and he promptly scored 31 points and dished out five assists. He must bring his best at both ends of the floor to give the Timberwolves a chance in this one.

3-point shooting – This game will be a battle of two contrasting offenses. Houston are renowned for their huge ratio of 3-point shooting which saw them average 42.3 long-range attempts per game in the regular season. The Timberwolves, in contrast, aren’t exactly prolific from long range. They took a league-low 22.5 attempts from downtown throughout the season and connected on a lower percentage than the Rockets.

Timberwolves on the road – The playoffs should be a different story, but the Timberwolves haven’t given their fans a lot of reason to be confident in them on the road throughout 2017/18. Despite boasting a better home record than the likes of the Warriors and the Celtics, Minnesota are 17-24 on the road this season. Against a Houston side which went 34-7 at home over the course of the year, this doesn’t bode well.

Matchup to watch

Clint Capela vs Karl-Anthony Towns – There will be plenty of important matchups in this game, but the one at center is one which could have a huge impact on its outcome. Towns’ numbers dropped this season, but this was largely a product of Butler’s inclusion to the team. He still averaged 21.3 points on 54.5% shooting and 12.3 rebounds and improved his 3-point shooting to an incredible 42.1%. His defense is still his Achilles heel, and with Paul and Harden no doubt throwing countless lobs to Capela in this game, the Timberwolves’ center will need to be on his guard. Capela averaged a career-high 13.9 points this season, and his 65.2% shooting is reflective of where his shots come from – very close to the rim. He also averaged 10.8 boards and 1.9 blocks and has become a dangerous player on a dangerous team.

Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup

PG – Chris Paul | SG – James Harden | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – PJ Tucker | C – Clint Capela 

Minnesota Timberwolves predicted starting lineup

PG – Jeff Teague | SG – Andrew Wiggins | SF – Jimmy Butler | PF – Taj Gibson | C – Karl-Anthony Towns

Fantasy tip

Harden wasn’t particularly efficient in his four games against Minnesota this season. He averaged 27.3 points but shot just 38.5% from the floor. He did, however, also dish out 10.3 assists to go with just 2.8 turnovers in these games.

Towns was the Timberwolves’ dominant player in these games. He averaged 23.8 points on 56.9% shooting, a huge 14.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.3 blocks.

Betting tip

The Rockets have been given an 11 point handicap, and as good as they are, this might be a little too much. They have shown a tendency to punish teams, even when the result is beyond doubt, but with Butler back the Timberwolves are a much better team. They’ll be able to keep this game under 11 points, so back them at the line.

Prediction

Houston will carry their regular into the playoffs with a relatively comfortable win in this game. Minnesota’s defense is much improved with Butler back in the starting lineup, but it still isn’t good enough to keep the prolific Rockets to under 110 points. Paul and Harden will wreak havoc with the unstable Timberwolves defense and will lead their side to a 1-0 series lead. The Rockets will lead from start to finish, ultimately running out 113-104.

TV info

The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 9pm ET. 

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