The 22-win Minnesota Timberwolves end this two-game road trip on Friday with a matchup between the 35-win Rockets in Houston, Texas. This will be the third of three meetings between these two teams this season. The season series currently sits at 1-1. This is the first and only time the Wolves are playing in Houston this season, but they've had some success there in recent years. The Wolves have won three-straight at the Toyota Center and four of the last five.
With 22 wins, the Wolves are currently tied with the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Hornets for the fewest wins in the Western Conference. The Wolves got a big win over a shorthanded Spurs squad earlier this week and that's the hope tonight in Houston. The Rockets' superstar James Harden is a gametime decision with a foot injury. I obviously hope he won't play as it'd certainly balance this game a bit more.
The Wolves will again have just nine healthy players: Rubio, Ridnour, Barea, Shved, Gelabale, Williams, Cunningham, Stiemsma & Johnson. Chase Budinger is still out as he hasn't gotten any practice in since being cleared earlier this week, simply because the Wolves haven't practiced because they've been so undermanned. Chase is on this road trip and will sit on/behind the bench in his first return to Houston since being traded to Minnesota this summer. Kevin Love is still out with that broken hand and it'll be another 2-3 weeks before he's cleared for contact practices. Brandon Roy is out with the knee issues and Malcolm Lee is recovering from January surgeries on his knee & hip. Nikola Pekovic & Andrei Kirilenko will both miss yet another game. Pek says he's pain-free, but has been unable to get into any practices and thus hasn't played. Neither AK or Pek even made the road trip.
The Rockets are trying to avoid a fifth loss in six meetings with the TWolves. These two teams first met the day after Christmas this season. The result was a three-point win for Houston. James Harden scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to lead his team to the W. Harden finished with 30pts, 6reb, 3ast, 2stls & 1blk. J.J. Barea had 18pts, 7reb, 3ast & 1stl. They met again on January 19th. The result was an easy 92-79 win for the Wolves. Kirilenko had 21pts, 11reb, 2ast & 3stls while Chris Johnson added 15pts, 6reb & 1blk off the bench. That was the first game for the "10-Day Duo" of Gelabale & Johnson as they completely destroyed the Rockets in the fourth to boost the Wolves to the W. James Harden finished with 18pts, 7reb, 5ast & 2stls, but shot 5-of-18 from the field and 0-for-7 from deep.
The Rockets have won seven of their last eight at home, while the Wolves have lost fourteen of their last fifteen on the road!
This is the first time the Wolves will face the Rockets since the NBA Trade Deadline and they definitely made some moves prior to February 21st. First, they sent Marcus Morris to Phoenix (to team up with his twin brother) for a second round pick. They then sent Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas, Cole Aldrich & $1million to the Sacramento Kings for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia & Tyler Honeycutt. About a week-and-a-half ago, the Kings bought out the contract of former Rocket Aaron Brooks. He promptly negotiated a new deal and signed on with the Houston Rockets. The Rockets cut Tyler Honeycutt to sign him. Definitely a much different team than the one the Wolves saw twice earlier this season.
Let's take a look at the probable starting lineups in this one...
I put Harden in the starting lineup, because I assume he'll play through the foot injury in this one. If he truly is unable to play, expect Francisco Garcia or Carlos Delfino to get the start in his place. Obviously containing Harden (if he plays) will be key in this game. I pray that the plan isn't to start Luke Ridnour on him. Either Rubio or Gelabale will have to guard him from the onset of this one, unless we want him to finish with 40 on the night. You might recognize Motiejunas in this lineup. The Wolves originally drafted him 20th overall two years ago before Kahn shipped him off to Houston for money and lower picks (during his task from Glen Taylor to finance the Rambis firing). Motiejunas has been the starter since the Rockets shipped Patterson to Sacramento. Thomas Robinson is the future power forward in Houston, but they don't want to put a lot of pressure on him from the onset.
If the Wolves want to win this one they've got to focus on two areas: 1.) Contain James Harden or pray he doesn't play, 2.) Defend the perimeter, no threes! If they do those two things...and get a big dose of luck...they might win this one.
Tipoff is set for 7pmCT, enjoy the game, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!