One of the most entertaining games from the first few days of the NBA playoffs occurred, ironically, between a 1 seed and an 8 seed. The top-seeded Houston Rockets eked out a 104-101 victory over the underdog Minnesota Timberwolves in Sunday’s Game 1.
In Game 2 today, the Timberwolves will aim to give the Rockets another challenge on the road (9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday on TNT).
Houston’s Game 1 win was really all about MVP favorite James Harden. The bearded superstar exploded for 44 points on 7-of-12 shooting from three-point range. The rest of his team bricked shots all night and went just 3-of-25 from downtown.
The Timberwolves did a really nice job defending everyone not named Harden on Sunday, but now the priority shifts to offense. How can the team optimize its scoring by getting its most efficient options more opportunities and giving fewer opportunities to less efficient players?
Read on for analysis on both the game’s burning questions and this preview’s Minnesota Timberwolves vs Houston Rockets predictions and betting picks for this Game 2.
Can the Timberwolves Keep Three-Point Difference Minimal?
This series is a matchup of different offensive styles. A league-low 26.1 percent of the Timberwolves’ field-goal attempts in the regular season were three-pointers, while the Rockets attempted a league-high 50.2 percent of their shots from behind the arc. Naturally, the Rockets get a much higher percentage of not just their attempts, but their points, from beyond the three-point line.
In Game 1, though, the Rockets had just 10 made three-pointers to the Timberwolves’ eight. This small discrepancy is one that actually benefits the Wolves, because it means that they kept Houston’s long-range game in check. The Wolves’ defense was solid, but also got some luck from the Rockets just missing shots.
Minnesota needs to hope it can stay within two or three three-pointers of Houston. Otherwise, the Rockets will win in blowout fashion.
Did Chris Paul’s Game 1 Struggles Get Into His Head?
Paul has a reputation for being a playoff underachiever because he has never won a second-round series. In reality, he has been quite good overall in the postseason, but his teammates have underperformed and gotten injured at unfortunate times. He may have a few bad moments to his name at the end of games, but his playoff performance has still been very good.
In Game 1, though, Paul was bad. He shot 5-of-14 from the field for 14 points, and he had four assists and six turnovers. He had many other passes that were tipped or off target.
Paul needs to rebound mentally. For the first time in his playoff career, he isn’t his team’s primary on-ball creator — that job belongs to James Harden. CP3 must learn to adjust to more off-ball work and just realize that this Rockets team isn’t his show to run singlehandedly.
Will Tom Thibodeau Elect to Use Karl-Anthony Towns More On Offense?
It is amazing the Timberwolves were able to stay as close as they did with all the mismanaging of players’ roles in Game 1. All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns is a fantastic offensive talent, but he took just nine shots in 40 minutes. However, past-their prime backups Jamal Crawford and Derrick Rose took 11 shots in 26 minutes and 14 shots in 24 minutes, respectively.
Give the Rockets defense some credit for fronting Towns in the post and keeping the ball away from him near the basket. But the Wolves’ coaching staff and primary ball-handlers needs to make more of a concerted effort to get their best offensive player the ball.
In particular, Minnesota needs to find Towns on mismatches. Houston runs a very switch-heavy defense, which means Towns will have a lot of opportunities on smaller players if the Wolves involved him in pick-and-roll action and then look for him after the screen.
Our Preview’s Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets Game 2 Betting Picks & Predictions
It is very unlikely that the Rockets shoot as poorly as they did from three in this Game 2. That said, the Timberwolves stayed very close on Sunday despite a really poor offensive game plan. The team’s defense also seemed pretty solid and offers hope that it can continue to improve on that end.
- The betting sites are favoring Houston by 10.5 points in this game, which seems about right. With the Wolves’ talent of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns there to anchor the team and likely get more touches in Game 2, though, I think a blowout is unlikely. Place your bets on the Timberwolves +10.5 @ -110 with 5Dimes. It is -115 with Bovada and Bookmaker.
- Neither team played close to its ceiling on offense in Game 1, but the total points scored was still a somewhat moderate 204. I expect both of these offensive-minded teams to pick up their efficiency in Game 2. Wager on the over 214pts @ -115 with Bovada. It is over 214.5pts @ -110 with 5Dimes or Bookmaker.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.