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Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves Game 3 preview

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NBA: Playoffs-Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

They say the series doesn’t start until a road team wins a game. So by that logic, the Rockets-Minnesota series hasn’t started yet. Or something.

In reality, Houston held serve by winning both games at Toyota Center. Now, Minnesota must win four of the final five games to advance. When you think about that mountain, you realize the position that Houston is in.

The Rockets were tied for the best home record in the NBA at 34-7. They also led the league with the best road record at 31-10. Tonight, they will put that road record to the test once again as the head to Minnesota to take on a team and crowd that hasn’t seen playoff basketball in 14 years. The Target Center will be lit, as the kids say.

The mandate for the Rockets is the same as it’s been for the first two games of this series: attack the basket to generate layup, lobs, or open threes. In game 1, Houston couldn’t get their threes to drop so they relied on layups and lobs. In game 2, the threes started falling and shots at the basket took a nosedive. While we talk about how Houston’s offense is just layups and threes, it’s always incredible to see how how difficult they are to stop even when everyone on the court and at home knows what’s coming.

That’s due to the brilliance of James Harden, and Houston’s insurance policy in Chris Paul. Maybe Harden and Paul are chokers. Perhaps that truly is a defining characteristic of both of them individually. But it’s unlikely that both will have a terrible game at the same time.

Most of Houston’s losses this season occurred when one of the duo either didn’t play or played poorly. You only need to look at the game in Toronto for proof. CP3 was an absolute no-show, Houston’s shooters shot poorly, and yet the Rockets still had a chance to tie late against the best team in the East on their court with a crowd that was acting like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. That’s how Houston gets you: they have three means of generating points: Harden, CP3, and shooting the 3. You need two of them to be bad in order to have a shot (as we saw in Game 1), and even then your odds aren’t great unless you play a near-stellar game.

I expect a near-stellar game tonight from Minnesota. This is the biggest game in the last 14 years for this franchise. Their crowd is going to be bonkers. The players are going to be amped. I think they will take that intensity and grab their first win in the series.

Tip-off is at 6:30pm CT on ESPN