(1) Houston Rockets vs (8) Minnesota Timberwolves

The last time Timberwolves made the playoffs was the 2003-2004 season when Kevin Garnett was just destroying the whole league. That drought was snap in the final game of the season when Jimmy Butler led the Timberwolves over the Denver Nuggets in a thrilling overtime game. The Timberwolves will have their work cut out for them playing against the Houston Rockets with future MVP (hopefully) James Harden leading the way.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 47-35

Bench
The Minnesota Timberwolves starting five (Teague, Butler, Wiggins, Gibson, Anthony-Towns) might be one of the best starting five in the playoffs. The Timberwolves have the inside presence with Karl Anthony-Towns and the perimeter punch with Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler. The Timberwolves were a little inconstant at times during the regular season with having five new players and Jimmy Butler getting hurt during the regular season derailed them from having a higher seed (8th seed) in the Playoffs. The Timberwolves can’t play their starting five the whole game, I feel like if head coach Tom Thibodeau could do that he would. The Timberwolves bench has some quality veterans guys like Derrick Rose, Jamal Crawford, Nemanja Bjelica and Gorgui Dieng. All those guys can provide extra offense and defense which will be needed against a very talented team like the Houston Rockets.

Play Your Game
The Timberwolves can’t fall in love with the three ball like the Houston Rockets, because that’s not their style of play, granted they have players that can make the three-point shot.

Timberwolves 3point shooters

• Jeff Teague 36%
• Jamal Crawford 33%
• Karl Anthony-Towns 42%
• Nemanja Bjelica 41%

The Timberwolves should get three-point shots from drive-and-kick situations instead of just settling for three-point shots. The Timberwolves have a lot of guys that can get to the paint and finish. The Rockets as good as they are, have some flaws one of them is depth at the center position. When starting center Clint Capela sits the Rockets don’t have another reliable player at the center position Nene is a quality backup but is not quick enough to switch pick-n-rolls or contain a player like Karl Anthony-Towns. The Timberwolves must make sure to attack the basket with the mindset of scoring or getting to the foul line if that happens those drive and kick three-pointers will be there and most likely be wide open threes.

Defending Harden
James Harden is one of the best scorers in the league, what makes it even worst is Harden has the vision and ability to beat you with the pass as well. Not letting Harden touch the ball will be easier said than done, but it can be done. James Harden is a matchup nightmare because he has the strength and height to score over shorter guards but if you put a bigger defender on him he also has great ball handling skills to blow by that defender. Tom Thibodeau is a defensive minded coach but he will have his work cut out for him. One way to defend a player like Harden is to make him uncomfortable, what do you mean uncomfortable? I mean when his coming off screens show him different defenses sometimes trap the pick-n-roll sometimes hedge hard off the pick-n-roll; make sure Harden is getting touched coming off the down screens, and make catch the basketball late in the shot clock than having him bring up the ball. Another way to defend Harden is to make him defend which is something his not good at. At 6’6 220 pounds James Harden has the size and ability to be a good defender but his just not. It will be interesting to see who Harden defends. Whoever Harden defends the Timberwolves should look to attack that matchup and make Harden work on the defensive end or get him in foul trouble early.

X-Factor
At first, I was going to put Jamal Crawford as the X-Factor but we all know what Jamal Crawford can do and will do, which is get buckets no matter what. If the Timberwolves want to win this series they will need Andrew Wiggins to play like the superstar we know he can be. Andrew Wiggins averaged 17 points this season while shooting 43% from the field and 33% from the three-point line. Wiggins has never tasted playoff basketball before so it will be interesting to see how he performs. Andrew Wiggins has shown flashes of being a great player but has to do more than show especially if you are getting max contract money. Wiggins has also shown to be disengaged defensively and very passive at times on the offensive end. For the Timberwolves to be successful this playoff run Wiggins must show people he is worth all the money the Timberwolves gave him. The Timberwolves must find ways to get Wiggins easy basket, from running the floor in transition to running Wiggins off a couple of down screens. Wiggins has the ability to attack the basketball which will help him get some open jump shots with the defense to focus on him getting to the basket. Wiggins has to be aggressive on both ends to give the Timberwolves a chance look for Timberwolves to find Wiggins early in the game to get him started.

Conclusion
The Timberwolves are a veteran team minus Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns. The leadership and experience of Tom Thibodeau and guys like Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford and former MVP Derrick Rose will help guide Anthony-Towns and Wiggins. The Timberwolves need every player to play their role to have a chance to win. The Timberwolves have to play their brand of basketball which is attacking the basket and allowing Karl Anthony-Towns space to do work on the block. Look the NBA stars league and the Timberwolves have a star in Jimmy Butler who is capable of having a huge impact on both ends of the court. Don’t sleep on the Timberwolves they have the talent to keep up with the Houston Rockets.

Houston Rockets
Record: 65-17

Containing KAT
The Houston Rockets are a great offensive team we know. The Rockets will have to play great defense to contain Karl Anthony-Towns. Karl Anthony-Towns (21 ppg, 12rpg, 42% from 3) is not your typical back-to-the-basket center he can do it all on the offensive end. From shooting the three, to dribble pull-ups, to posting up, and attacking off the dribble. Anthony-Towns will be a load of trouble for Clint Capela. Capela is a very good defender but playing against a player like Anthony-Towns he will need to be a focus on making things tough for Anthony-Towns. Capela tends to fall for a lot of pump fakes, playing against Anthony-Towns Capela needs to make sure he doesn’t fall for easy pump fakes and make sure every shot that Anthony-Towns take are contested. Another way to defend Anthony-Towns is sending a double team every once and awhile. Anthony-Towns doesn’t pass well out of the double especially when the double team is coming from the opposite side. Look for the Rockets to mix it up defending Anthony-Tows; backup center Nene will be a big help against Anthony-Towns as well. Nene is not as quick or athletic as Capela is, but can provide a physical presence against a finesse player like Anthony-Towns.

Two Pointers are good too!
The Houston Rockets shoot 42 threes a game out of those 43 they make 15 of them. They have a lot of really good three-point shooters guys like Joe Johnson, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and James Harden. All those guys can shoot the three and can get hot fast. It is important to also attack the basket when those threes are not falling. The Timberwolves are a good defensive team and will force Rocket players to attack the basket and take what the defense is giving them. The Rockets must understand that scoring a midrange basket is better than missing a three. Look for the Rockets to attack the basket to put pressure on the Timberwolves defense.

X-Factor
Clint Capela has improved his game every year that he has been in the league. This year Capela has taken his talent to a whole new level Capela is averaging 13.8ppg, 10.8rbp, 1.9bpg. Capela will need to take it up another level. Not only will Capela defense be key but his offense will be much needed especially playing against Karl Anthony-Towns. Anthony-Towns is a great offensive player but he still has ways to go on the defensive end. Clint Capela will need to put pressure on Anthony-Towns to defend. Look for the Rockets to run a lot of pick-n-roll with Capela to allow him to get some easy dunks.
In conclusion, the Rockets have a great team from top to bottom. One thing that the Rockets have on their side as well as the experience. Guys like Trevor Ariza, James Harden, Ryan Anderson and Chris Paul have big playoff experience and be will need down the line. Timberwolves will give the Rockets all they can handle but the Rockets have too much firepower and can defend as well.

Prediction Houston Rockets win series 4-2

Billy Aristide
Baseline Times Contributor