NBA League Pass Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets

Minnesota at Houston
Time: 8 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: HOU -12.5
Total: 228.5

Betting odds c/o 5dimes

The Houston Rockets did the unthinkable at the trade deadline: added another flame throwing three-point specialist in sixth man Louis Williams. Williams may even start tonight, if the nod does not go to Eric Gordon. Starting guard Patrick Beverley is questionable with groin tightness, and even with that minor injury the Rockets are prohibitive 12.5 point favorites over the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves. The over/under is set high at 228.5 points, for the game which will air at 8 Central on NBA League Pass.

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Houston has won five of its past six games and most recently knocked off the newly-configured New Orleans Pelicans in impressive 129-99 fashion. For all that had been made of the Pelicans leapfrogging to the status of contenders, James Harden and company quickly squashed that by flat out running New Orleans out of the building on its homecourt, at that. Williams had 27 points off the bench, and the Rockets bench tallied 79 total points while New Orleans got just 28 points from its second unit. Both DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis had big games, combining to go 19 of 40 from the floor for 56 points between them, but only one other Pelican reached double-figures. Omri Casspi had 12 points, but he suffered a season-ending thumb injury which caused New Orleans to waive him. In his place Reggie Williams was signed, but it is unclear how he and new acquisition Jarrett Jack figure into the picture.

The Pelicans are working with a lot of discarded talents and Jrue Holiday’s inconsistent brilliance in the backcourt. Holiday had his worst game of the season with Cousins aboard, going just 3 of 12 from the floor and finishing with seven turnovers to his four assists. Holiday was -31 for his 35 minutes of play, and he has to fit in as a third star and third option alongside Cousins and Davis. That is no small challenge, considering no other guards in the NBA have had to contend with two premier playmaking bigs, but Holiday offers plenty aside from his scoring.

At 6’4” he is adequately able to defend three positions, and it may be that New Orleans seeks to go an entirely different route with its 1/2/3 rotation in playing guys who switch well on defense and can shoot the three adequately. The entire construction of New Orleans regime changes with its addition of Cousins, even if the star is just under contract for one more season after this one. If New Orleans experiences success and indications that it can construct a contender around Cousins and Davis, the task will turn to pairing two guards with Holiday.

The likes of Trevor Ariza and Pat Beverley perfectly perform the role in Houston, and the Pelicans will not need to add stars at the wing positions. It may even be that Solomon Hill ends up being perfect for the role, but he struggled in his 27 minutes against the Rockets, going just 1 of 4 from the floor for three points and five assists. Hill was signed to a $15 million deal in the hopes he could ascend in the mold of a Jae Crowder for New Orleans, but it has not worked out just yet.

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Whatsoever the case, the Pelicans were not up to taking on a loaded Houston team that has experienced such success under first-year coach Mike D’Antoni. Houston can simply run teams out of the building, and when James Harden is functioning as a passer he may be at his best. The converted shooting guard leads the NBA In assists this season. The heavy talk of the Pelicans has to be excused because what Houston showed in their first meeting is that a big-man heavy team just cannot score with an offensive machine like Houston. James Harden is solidifying his place as the NBA’s most lethal guard, whether it be his assaults to the rim or his deft passing to Houston’s plethora of three-point shooters. No one expected a team to so closely parallel Golden State’s brilliance, but Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Lou Williams are all hired guns ready to do Harden’s bidding.

Minnesota has largely disappointed this season, and the season-ending injury of Zach LaVine more or less cashed the Timberwolves playoff hopes in one traumatic injury. Ricky Rubio was shopped heavily at the trade deadline and linked to New York’s Derrick Rose, but nothing transpired. As to why the Timberwolves feel comfortable moving on to Kris Dunn at point guard is more mysterious still. He has shown few signs to exhibit that he is a future star, but he has been branded as one all the same. LaVine showed promise as a playmaker, but is such an elite shooter that the Timberwolves prefer to play him off the ball. Without LaVine, Andrew Wiggins has taken it upon himself to become a one-man show offensively.

But it is unclear how much Wiggins offers outside of his scoring barrages, and a player once billed a premier defensive prospect has looked like anything but, often uninspired on that end of the court entirely. Karl-Anthony Towns has looked brilliant most of the season, but without LaVine the Wolves are a star shy of being able to play optimal basketball against the juggernaut teams in the West.

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