Minnesota Timberwolves vs Houston Rockets: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/18/18
Game 1 went down to the wire, and though the Timberwolves went down they will have gained some confidence from the loss
Game 1 of the Houston vs Minnesota series was a little closer than many expected. It took the Rockets the entire 48 minutes to shake the plucky Timberwolves, who had the chance to send the game to overtime on the final possession of the game. Alas, Jimmy Butler’s shot went awry, Houston won 104-101, and took a 1-0 lead in the series.
Heading into Game 2, the Timberwolves will feel confident they can match it with the home side. Butler scored just 13 points and will no doubt get better as he continues to work his way back from injury, while Towns had just eight points. There is every reason to assume these guys will improve on this output, and if they do they will give their side a chance.
For the Rockets, the James Harden Show continued as the Beard racked up 44 points on 15-for-26 shooting, including 7-for-12 from downtown, and dished out eight assists. Clint Capela was also dangerous, capitalizing on the Timberwolves’ and Towns’ general lack of defensive awareness to score 24 points.
Three keys to the game
Houston’s shooting – One of the major reasons the Rockets only got over the line by three points despite a superb performance from Harden was that the rest of their team couldn’t hit a long-range shot to save themselves. Excluding this year’s probable MVP winner, Houston went a woeful 3-for-25 from long range, or 12%. The likes of Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, and Eric Gordon will need to improve that number in Game 2.
Scoring off turnovers – The Timberwolves turned it over 13 times on Sunday, and these turnovers resulted in 18 points for the Rockets. Houston themselves turned it over a similar number of times – 11 to be precise – but conceded a solitary point from these turnovers. Clearly, this is a major differential, and Minnesota will need to capitalize on the Rockets’ errors going forward.
Defending the paint – Paul and Harden love to chuck up lobs for Capela, and the Timberwolves seemed perplexed as to how to deal with this on Sunday. The big man went 10-for-15 from the floor, and all of the 20 points that resulted were in the paint. Harden also got inside with relative ease, scoring 14 paint points during the game.
Matchup to watch
Clint Capela vs Karl-Anthony Towns – Harden is probably worthy of a mention here, but the matchup at center was pretty one-sided in Game 1, and not in the direction that many would have expected. Towns has a much more well-rounded game than his opponent but could only muster up eight points from nine shots compared to Capela’s 24 on Sunday. Towns has work to do at both ends of the floor. His defense was poor, and at the offensive end, he couldn’t get involved. If a similar situation unfolds in Game 2 it’s hard to see the Timberwolves getting up, so he will need to figure out a way to nullify the influence of Capela while also scoring baskets.
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
James Harden will, of course, be the man to stop. His 44 points were a game-high, as were his eight assists. He gave the Timberwolves some trouble in the regular season, too. In the second game of the regular season series, he scored 34 points (including shooting 6-for-10 from long range), and dished out 13 assists. In the fourth matchup against Minnesota, he also scored 34 points, this time dishing out 12 assists.
The Timberwolves have been given a 10.5 point head start, which they should be able to cover. Their two best players didn’t contribute a whole lot on the offensive end in Game 1 and they still lost by just three points, so though they will lose, they’ll keep the margin in single figures.
Minnesota have reason to feel hopeful heading into this matchup. They will get better production from both Butler and Towns, at least offensively, while the rest of their team will continue to provide solid contributions.
Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, the Rockets also have plenty of room for improvement. Harden might have been dominant, but the rest of their team was very poor offensively in the first game. They won’t shoot anywhere near as badly as they did in Game 1, and with Towns and the Wolves unable to defend the paint to a high enough level to stop Houston, expect the home side to put up over 104 points this time around. Minnesota won’t be blown out, but it won’t be as close as last time. Houston will win this one 111-102.
The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 9:30pm ET.