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.

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.
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2 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    The thing about the Rockets is that they do lack chemistry, but part of why they are underachieving is because they are overrated down to the player. Dwight Howard is an overrated player (particularly at this stage in his career) who is a loser wherever he goes. Harden is a really good player, but overrated, too. Last year they got hot at just the right time and that raised expectations higher that they should be. I believe McHale was scapegoated and is a pretty good coach. I didn’t like the way he had the team playing, but it was probably the best way to go with that roster. Bickerstaff is running things the same way, but not quite as sharp.

    I just dislike the way Houston plays and also think they aren’t all that good. They have a lot of weaknesses and a pretty shallow roster. Their point guard would be better suited as a back up on a good team, although Beverley is a certified Wolves killer (I can understand why they tried Lawson). Even their two best players are guys who have weaknesses and just don’t look that great some nights. So it is disappointing to really not get over the hump all game against a team like that. We played from a position of weakness from the beginning. Sam said ‘we ran out of gas’. What? After a day off playing a beatable team when we looked a step off from the beginning, you call that ‘running out of gas?’ I’m not mad, just confused…

    Hard to read the crystal ball about our future chemistry. Frankly it is a rough work in progress. A lot of chemistry is also reliant on a good system and correct play calling and just coaching in general. So if we get better coaching that will help with chemistry. But as it stands now, under Mitchell, we don’t have good chemistry. Towns and Deing have shown some of the best, but they get killed on the glass as a duo too often. Rubio doesn’t have his regular level of chemistry built with this group, but I think a lot of that is the closed feeling offense we play that severely limits the advantage we have over other teams with a guard like Rubio. One good sign is that Rubio and LaVine are playing well together. Towns and Wiggins may personally complement each other, but I could see Wiggins’ passive nature being read as ‘I don’t care’ by Towns and that annoying him. Towns is already the more consistent player. The bench is such a work in progress after our mini fire sale that it’s not even worth thinking about their chemistry yet.

    March Madness has me thinking about prospects. The Wolves are in a weird position that I’m not used to. We have a lot of holes, but we aren’t clearly in a position to throw the best available talent in the draft into a starting position anymore. I still think the strategy is the same: draft the best talent on the board and then have them play on the bench or fight the starter for a spot. Wherever they end up is fine. But we have potential starters on a good team developing, Rubio is already there but will improve as his shot does, LaVine looks like a legit dynamo 2-guard, Wiggins is a good talent at small forward, Towns can play power or center, as can Deing. I think the weakness is that they are both light and we need more rebounding–so two combo bigs has advantages and disadvantages. The bench needs much more work, but Jones is looking like a decent back up point guard now, much to my pleasant surprise. Shabazz has tools and is a bench piece. Prince is great to have as a vet/defender off the bench, but how long will he play? Payne and Bejelica have very shaky futures, although we should give Bejelica a good look next season. Rudez might be a good last guy off the pine. So, we have lots of places (as of now, could be a wild off season) to stick a draft pick on the bench, but a pick is going to have to play well to steal a starting spot. Just by position, I am not sure what our biggest need is…

    I hate it when ex-Wolves beat us, play abnormally well against us (wonder if Derrick Williams has that out of his system yet). And they love to come back and show us up! Must be the cold weather we forced on them. At the end of the day, I really like seeing Beasley get back into the NBA and have high hopes for him. I recall seeing him play at Wolves training camp. He brought a huge effort to meaningless things (he’s not lazy) had an engaging fun personality (not unlikable) and was gracious to the fans. I also think he’s really talented. I think he’s had personal issues and challenges which have held him back, but he’s a good person (and talented player) at heart. I hope he’s learned a way to put some of those issues behind him so he can shine. It would be awesome to have him on our bench! Hope he stays up in the NBA for good now.

  2. farnorth says:

    “Rockets would be riding high off of their stunning comeback against the Clippers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals” eh?

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