By: Seth Toupal
Tonight the Wolves host Houston in a matchup of last year's first round playoff series. Gone is Jimmy Butler, and the Wolves are 7-3 in their last 10 games due largely to a vastly improved defense and clutch baskets by Robert Covington. The Rockets are floundering despite continued brilliance by James Harden. This Rockets roster is clearly feeling the loss of key depth pieces from last year's Western Conference Finals run. Regardless, they still pose a difficult challenge for the Wolves due to their high tempo style of play. Can the Wolves get back to .500? Can the Rockets get back over .500?
What: Rockets @ Wolves
When: 7:00 PM CT
Where: Target Center
Where to watch: Fox Sports North
Where to listen: 830 AM WCCO
What to watch for:
Towns vs. Capela: Last year Capela dominated Karl-Anthony Towns on both sides of the ball, averaging 18.8 PPG in the regular season and 15.8 PPG in the playoffs. But Towns has been playing much better since Jimmy Butler was traded. Will he be able to hold his own against Capela? Or will Capela run wild and keep the Wolves from driving to the hoop?
Which Bench is Better?: Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni has repeatedly pointed to the Rockets lack of depth as a big reason for their slow start. After losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute the defense has taken a step back. The Rockets main bench threats include Eric Gordon and Gerald Green have struggled to hit shots so far this year. If the Wolves starters can keep up with the Rockets, Derrick Rose and the Wolves bench have to make up ground when they are in the game.
Will Andrew Wiggins Please Step Up: Andrew Wiggins has had a massively frustrating season so far this year. His offensive numbers are down in every category, and the thought that with Butler gone he could go back to what he was most comfortable at offensively has also not panned out. Since recording back to back 23-point games on 11/14 and 11/16, Wiggins has scored over 14 points once and is averaging just 13.3 PPG in his last 10 games. Wiggins has to be better, and every game he isn't makes his extension look that much worse. Maybe playing the Rockets will break him out of this funk? Wiggins averaged 15.8 PPG in the playoffs against Houston last season, so it's now or never for Wiggins to get back on track.
Minnesota: PG Jeff Teague, SG Andrew Wiggins, SF Robert Covington, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
Houston: PG Chris Paul, SG James Harden, SF James Ennis III, PF PJ Tucker, C Clint Capela
Minnesota: OUT - Jerryd Bayless (knee)
Houston: QUESTIONABLE - Brandon Knight (knee)
This Rockets team is still trying to get on track. In previous seasons the supporting cast proved too much to handle for the Wolves. But this year Harden is having to handle more of the load and the Rockets defense has not been able to force stops enough. The Wolves defense has been sensational in their last 10 games which leaves me optimistic that the Wolves can get back to .500 with a win. Look for KAT to be his usual self and a 30-point game for Derrick Rose may be in store tonight as well. More threes per game also matches up well against Houston's offense.
Wolves 108, Rockets 101 :)
Seth is host of The Scoop on KLGR Radio out of Redwood Falls, Minnesota. Listen to episodes of The Scoop here.