Rockets 116, Timberwolves 111: I don’t understand chemistry, but I know it’s important
I saw a tweet before the season started – can’t remember who authored it, some hack blogger – who picked Houston to make the NBA Finals. I suppose he thought the Rockets would be riding high off of their stunning comeback against the Clippers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and in year three of the Dwight-Harden pairing, while surrounded by a cast of capable role players (Beverley, Brewer, Ariza, Terry, Jones, Motiejunas, Capela), would take it to the next level. Perhaps he wanted to just go against the grain since everyone was picking the Warriors to repeat as champions. Yeah, he’s probably just a contrarian like that. Anyway, that guy was way, way, way, way, way, way, way wrong, whoever he was.
Cleveland over Houston in 6 in the Finals.
— William Bohl (@BreakTheHuddle) October 27, 2015
Shit, that was me.
Yeah, picking Houston to make the Finals was silly, but the fact that the Rockets are such a debacle is another story altogether. By beating the Wolves last night, they improved to 35-34, 7th in the West. They’re likely to make the postseason; they’re not likely to win more than a single game if they do. Kevin McHale was fired 11 games into the season, and things haven’t gotten much better under J.B. Bickerstaff. Between routine “players-only meetings,” back-channel reports of rifts between James Harden and Dwight Howard, the whole Ty Lawson episode (yeesh), voided trades, some poor injury luck, and nights when they genuinely look like they do not give a shit whatsoever, this season is a disaster, especially in light of their lofty goals back in October.
The chemistry issues that have felled the Rockets should give pause to everyone who thinks team-building is little more than assembling talent. It’s difficult to define or harness (and impossible to quantify) what it means to have a cohesive team. There’s no set formula. In retrospect, yeah, two somewhat quirky, volatile, (dare I say immature?) personalities such as Harden and Howard were destined to have problems all along, despite the fact that they’re great complementary pieces on the floor.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are on their way to becoming great complementary players as well. If Wiggins improves his handle and outside shot, the Wolves will have plus defenders at the two most important spots in the lineup (lead wing and center), a great passer from the post (Towns) who can throw to an athletic cutter (Wiggins), and a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop combination that could be very effective.
Even without those ideal improvements, Wiggins and Towns were excellent last night, combining to go 21-for-34 from the floor for 53 points. Their teammates altogether went 22-for-51 for 58 points. Despite the lack of shooting from everyone besides Wiggs and KAT, Minnesota still shared the ball pretty well (30 assists on 43 field goals).
The combination works on the floor; does it work off the floor? It seems like it; we want to believe that Wiggins (the quiet one) and Towns (outgoing, and funny) are the perfect fit off the court as well, a willing Robin (Wiggins would be happy, I think, to let Towns handle all of the on-camera work) to Batman (Towns). Or, if you prefer, a willing Pippen to Jordan. Will they continue to get along as they get older, the stage gets bigger, the pressure more intense, the contracts larger, and the exposure on a grander scale? Time will tel. There’s reason to believe they’ll work harmoniously together, but it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind.
A couple of other tidbits:
- The officials… were… interesting? Unwilling to call fouls early on? It was very strange.
- Harden and Beverley absolutely shredded Minnesota’s D, each tying or setting career highs in assists. (14 and 10, respectively), though The Beard did have nine (9) turnvoers.
- Minnesota had 14 steals as a team, tying their season high.
- The Wolves allowed the Rockets to shoot 57% from the field, including an 8-for-14 effort for Michael Beasley, who was too much for the Wolves to handle. It was super cool to watch Beas having a good night in the NBA. If it becomes an annual routine that he has his fun in China before signing with a fringe playoff team for the stretch drive, that’d be A-okay with me.
- 32-11-1 with a two steals and a block for Towns. It’s becoming routine.
- Five assists for Wiggins. I hope that becomes routine.
- The Wolves play the Warriors at home on Monday and the Kings at home on Wednesday, which is an interesting pairing. Perhaps the best team in NBA history, and the most dysfunctional franchise in recent memory.