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Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves game preview

NBA: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Houston got their longest remaining road trip off to a good start with a win. With the Warriors idle last night, Houston is now a full three games (with the tiebreaker in hand) ahead of the Warriors for the top seed in the West, and three games ahead of the Raptors (without the tiebreaker) for the top overall seed in the NBA.

Tonight’s opponent is the Minnesota Timberwolves, whom the Rockets have defeated by exactly 18 points in all three meetings. The T-Wolves will be without Jimmy Butler, who suffered a non-contact injury the last time these teams met.

As I type this, Minnesota is about to lose their battle with the Spurs in San Antonio. The Wolves need every game at this point as they fight in that 4-10 scrum in the Western Conference. Their game will finish after Houston’s so neither team will have a huge advantage in the rest/travel category, but we’re likely in for a sloppy contest between two tired teams.

Andrew Wiggins has stepped up in the absence of Butler, and he’s clearly enjoying being the guy with the ball all the time, with recent reports suggesting that he’s unhappy as the third banana with the Timberwolves. Houston, for their part, would love to see Wiggins try to beat them since Karl-Anthony Towns and Jeff Teague have killed the Rockets in previous matchups.

One thing I noticed during the fourth quarter of the Pelicans game was that Harden went back to his old hero-ball ways. That works when he’s hitting his shots, but he missed all but one of his jumpers. If he’s going to go alpha male, Houston needs him to get to the basket and force help to open up wide open threes for Houston’s cadre of shooters. I’d like to see less of old Harden, and more of the Harden that plays like Chris Paul.

Tip-off is at 6pm CT on NBA TV