The Rockets have actually already beaten the Wolves in a road game this year. Of course, that game was in Mexico City and featured more Rockets fans than Minny fans, but heck a road win is a road win, right?
The Timberwolves are coming off a home loss to the 6-76ers (Xiane, I'm trying to make it happen). Yes, I know that Philly is bad, but the Timberwolves are the only team that can give OKC and Houston a run for their injury money (is injury money a thing? God I hope not).
Of the projected starting 5 for the Wolves, only Andrew Wiggins has played in all 17 games. Eleven different players have started for Minny (10 for Houston), and while Houston will likely still be playing without Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan, Terrence Jones, and Dwight Howard, the Timberwolves will be playing without Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic. Minnesota has forcibly been turned from a young team into an even more inexperienced team. It's not that Minny has bad young players. Really, it's quite the opposite.
I said last time that I admired how Flip Saunders didn't let Cleveland run over him to get Kevin Love. While most fans salivated over Wiggins and LeBron playing together and bloggers and writers alike declared that Cleveland should hold steady on keeping Wiggins and just unloading Bennett and a first or two, Saunders got the rookie phenom that he coveted and deserved in a trade for Love. That's a move David Kahn probably bungles.
Tip off is at 7pm CST.
Point Guard: Propeller Plane vs. Mo Williams
I look up and down the Wolves' starting lineup from their last game and I think "It's almost like they made a team specifically with guys that kill the Rockets in mind."
First a foremost, Mo Williams was a complete jerkoff last year in the playoffs. Trash-talking Troy Daniels after the game was bush league and came across as an old veteran who had lost his talents but still wanted to show he belonged.
Williams is averaging 17/9 in his last 4. He is questionable tonight with a minor back injury so if he doesn't play LaVine will probably start here as he did the last time these teams met.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Corey Brewer
After scoring 51 points against Houston last year, Brewer has decided that he owns Houston. In the game in Mexico City, he went 7-7 for 18 points. I was running TDS's Twitter account that game and I think I asked "Why isn't Minny having Brewer take every shot?" about 50 times.
The 51-point game last year was a combination of bad defense and worse defense. But in Mexico City, the Rockets defended him pretty well and he was still hitting jumpers.
Seriously, he'll a miss a shot tonight. He can't keep this up. Right? Right??? RIGHT?!?!?
Advantage: Timberwolves, but switches to Rockets as soon as Brewer turns mortal by missing a shot
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Andrew Wiggins
Heck of a matchup here. Probably second best to the titanic matchup of shooting guard which might produce two 50-point games on the same night.
But seriously, Wiggins hasn't set the world on fire but how could he with the expectations that he had. I think he's a fine young player. Gone are the days where rookies average 18/8 like LeBron and Melo did. Now rookies are having to fit in with their teams unless their squads are tanking like Philly or have no other player to hand the keys to like Orlando did with Oladipo last season.
When these teams met last time, Harden spent a large chunk of the game defending Wiggins so that Ariza could check K-Mart. Wiggins did blow past Harden twice for a dunk and would have had a second had Howard not rejected him into the third row. I'm interested to see how McHale plays this. What if Brewer gets hot? Does he switch Ariza there and let Harden handle Wiggins? What if Wiggins blows past Harden a few times? There's no Dwight protecting the rim tonight.
Power Forward: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Thaddeus Young
There are guys that always get advantages when they play Houston.
I'm talking about guys like LeBron, Durant, Curry, and Thaddeus Young.
Recently, Thad hasn't been killing the Rockets, but as Xiane once said, "Thaddeus Young scares AK more than bird flu." And he's right. I have too many memories of him burning the Rockets when he was in Philadelphia.
Center: Tarik Black vs. Gorgui Dieng
I think Dieng was a pleasant surprise for the Wolves last year. To my eyes, the 21st overall pick in the 2013 Draft looked raw coming out of Louisville but he's really put it together by putting up some great points and rebounds numbers.
I think the next step will be learning how to defend better. In his last four games, Dieng hasn't registered a swat and that seems unusual for someone who's 6-11 and lanky.
Now watch as he blocks Houston five times tonight. Why can't I just shut up? Sometimes, I swear I can't even.
I haven't said much about Tarik Black in this space. Usually I've just been writing "Get well soon, Dwight." And while I do want Howard back, I'd be remiss if I said Black hasn't been an absolute revelation so far in the young season. Undrafted free agent, wasn't supposed to make the team, and he's worked his tail off to get here. The Rockets didn't need him to reinvent the wheel, but they did need defense and rebounding when Dwight wasn't in the games, and Black has given them that and more. His post-game interview after he recorded his first career double-double against Memphis of all teams portrayed a guy who's enjoying the position he's in and multiple times said he was grateful and blessed for the opportunity. I'll admit I knew nothing of Black heading into the draft other than the fact that he had been on Kansas last year, but I'm once again astounded by Houston's scouting department in bringing in a guy who's working his tail off. Good for him.
Rockets: Nick Johson, Francisco Garcia, Kostas Papanikolaou, Joey Dorsey
Timberwolves: Chase Budinger, Robbie Hummel, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Zach LaVine
Prediction: Rockets win 102-86. Houston usually plays one clunker a year in Minnesota, and since tonight is the only game of the season there I'm hoping that won't happen.
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