Rockets 142, Timberwolves 130: Math Lab

I feel like I’ve had every possible Wolves-Rockets recap since I started writing for A Wolf Among Wolves in the fall of 2013. Truth is, this is the 5th; they’ve met 14 times over that span. The Wolves are 2-12 overall in those games, and 0-5 in mine. Last night’s 142-130 loss was the craziest yet.

I’ve just about run out of things to say about James Harden and the Houston Rockets. They’re completely unreasonable. I sort of vaguely hate watching them for reasons I can’t quite explain, yet I respect and admire their success. Harden (24 points, 10 assists last night) somehow looks more comfortable than he ever has, even though the rest of the Rockets’ roster has been turned over nearly two full times since he arrived (in the fall of 2012). Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon should never play for any other coach than Mike D’Antoni, who has given the two of them a green light that never even blinks yellow. Their offense has been an analytics-driven juggernaut for years, but this version of it is the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. It’s an accelerated version of it. Houston took 42 free throws and 58 three-pointers. FIFTY. EIGHT. Hell, that was a two-week output in Flip/Smitch’s offense from the past two Wolves’ seasons; the Rockets did it in 48 minutes.

I mean, LOOK AT THIS:

Minnesota shot 52/35/82 from the field, scored 68 points in the paint, and nearly doubled up the Rockets in second-chance points (29-to-15) thanks to an astounding 21 offensive rebounds. KAT racked up a 37-22 line, Wiggins had 30, and the much-maligned Minnesota bench combined for 33 points on 12-of-25 shooting. It didn’t matter. Once Clint Capela slammed home an alley-oop from James Harden to make it 4-2 Rockets at the 10:02 mark of the 1st quarter, the Wolves never so much as tied it back up. That was it.

The Wolves were sunk in part by their 23 turnovers, and to their credit, they kept pushing and fighting until the very end. It just… didn’t… matter. Everyone knows what’s coming from the Rockets, and the Wolves (especially) could not stop it.


I don’t really know what else to say. This was nice, I guess:

A few more random observations:

  • Shabazz wore a black headband instead of the white. I think I like the white look, more, but overall I am very encouraged by this very positive development.
  • Gorgui had a 16-13-2-4 steal line. You know, most centers look completely out of place and can’t stay on the floor in games like this one, but because Gorgui hustles and has slightly better than average ball handling/shooting skills for his position, he fits right in.
  • Patrick Beverley did Patrick Beverley things, earning a tech for shoving Rubio in some passive-aggressive third quarter spat.
  • Lou Williams was such a nice pickup for the Rockets. He had 17 points and 4 dimes off the bench.
  • Brandon Rush might be cooked. At what point does he get moved out of the starting lineup?
  • The Wolves continue their push for the 8th seed (ONLY THREE AND A HALF GAMES BACK, BABY!) Monday night against the Boogie-less Sacramento Kings.
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  1. “James Harden looks more comfortable than he ever has.” Of course; he’s a giant ball hog by nature now allowed to completely indulge himself. The annoying Houston fans, who seem to have completely forgotten what actual basketball looks like (and how entertaining a team that does things other than jack up 3’s can be) constantly were chanting MVP, MVP. Here’s the thing–the Harden ball hog offense looks fine in the doldrums of the regular season and is a great way the pad the hell out of his stats. Good luck come playoff time—these guys are gonna need it.

    Speaking of this sort of rant… Ryan Andersen literally cannot do anything well other than shoot threes. Unlike a smaller player who loves to jack up threes, he can’t dribble and is tortoise slow. And unlike most bigs, he isn’t a very good in the post or as a rebounder. In this game 13 of his 15 FGs were threes and he had 2 rebounds in 23 minutes. What a boring player.

    I don’t vaguely hate watching Houston. I hate watching Houston. And I know why. They are boring. From a more ideological standpoint, they are an affront to the spirit of basketball. I once read about a D-III basketball team who was going gangbusters by doing nothing but shooting threes. They would just take a three every possession and if they got a offensive rebound they’d take another three. They just tried to wear the other team out by hassling them, pressing and taking as many threes as possible. Of course, against fellow D-III level competition they mostly confused and succeeded against teams they ran into. But can you imagine how dull that got as a fan, even if that was your team? It’s a gimmick and against the spirit of the game. Increasingly the 3-point line itself, implemented in the NBA one must suspect to unclog the game and remove dominance from the few teams that could find top level giants to play center, is pushing toward gimmick and running up against what the founders of the sport intended. This game would likely bore and bristle folks from the golden age of basketball. Houston is getting closer to the level of gimmickry that the D-III team was guilty of. Is it that important to win? Are there not better, more sustainable ways to do it? As much as I don’t like GS or their way of playing either, they are well rounded art compared to Houston’s carnival trick. I’m optimistic enough to expect this to be exposed in the playoffs.

    The Wolves can beat this kind of team. But they must take care of the ball and play defense and shoot a little better from three to cut down a bit on that 2 to 3 thing to do it. Basically, we panicked right away and and started getting out of sync, feeling too pressured to keep up. A team like this relies on this kind of panic to help bury opponents with their one or at best two dimensional attack. They are good at what they do, but they don’t do that much. The Wolves aren’t great candidates to figure this out, but teams will.

    Heh, the Dunn between the legs was a bit fun. I like razzle and think it is good for a team. But this was not Rubio-level razzle. This pass did nothing. I mean, Dunn could have almost handed the ball to Towns, and since no one was guarding either Dunn or Towns at all, he could have easily passed the ball normally, facing Towns with a flick of the wrist–there was no one to fool. Last game, Rubio’s behind the back resulted in a complete, on a dime change of direction and caused Harris to lose the ball leaning the wrong way and opened a lane to the basket for Rubio. This was just making an easy pass more difficult. Fun, but in a different, lower category.

    Shabazz has a head shape that just looks like it’s asking for headband ownership.

    We’re a body short at least from having someone to replace Rush in the starting line-up. Bazz gives the bench scoring it dearly needs. Even if we get Lance back, he’s more of a bench enforcer/Defensive tough guy. Watching him actually made be think how overrated Dunn’s current defense is. Is Dunn a good defender for a rookie? You betcha. But he’s got a way to go even on that side of the ball.

  2. Houston plays a brand of basketball that wins games during the year, but gets beat in the playoffs because good teams play defense and also have three point shooters.

    The difference between the wolves and rockets is depth. If Brandon Rush could hit a three, it may have been a different story because the open shots were there. Even with all the turnovers, KAT and G could have scored at such a high rate in the paint to offset the threes that Houston shot and Wiggins would have had clear lanes to the basket if we had anyone who could shoot a wide open three. Why do three point shooters come to the wolves and have some of their worst seasons? Rush, Belly, Budinger, heck Corey Brewer shoots threes when he isn’t a wolf. Is there something in the arctic air, or is it the curse of Wally Szerbiak?

    Besides the lack of depth is the lack of team toughness. Rubio gets shoved by Beverly and who comes to his aid? Where was the hard pick to Beverly’s head the next time Rubio brought up the ball? Toughness is what I thought Thibs teams would bring each night. Maybe the defense would take a while, but they wouldn’t be intimidated by punks like Beverly. I thought Cole could have been that for us last night. When you don’t have a bench that can score, they should use their six fouls to protect your stars and send a message.

    • Yeah… Forgot to mention above that this was a game in which we really missed Zach.

      As for toughness and vet influence, it would be nice to being Stephenson back.

      • Stephenson blows in people’s ears. Let’s not pretend he’s tough just because he’s strong for his position; he’d have been in trouble if David West wasn’t there to back him up in Indiana. To the larger point, I can’t honestly remember a time when this franchise had that type of enforcer on their roster. People didn’t mess with Pek, but he also didn’t intervene to stick up for his teammates either. KG’s reputation was largely all-bark, no-bite. This is the type of team where such a player would’ve come in handy, even if it was a guy who didn’t have much left on the court.