The wait to identify a first-round opponent for Houston is over as the crazy and unpredictable Western Conference finally has some clarity.
The Rockets will host the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the playoffs opening this weekend.
Minnesota has the 5th-best offense in the league, anchored by Jimmy Butler (22.0 ppg on 47.4% shooting) and Karl Anthony-Towns (21.2 ppg on 54.4% shooting, 9.4 reb). However, despite being coached by Tom Thibodeau, their defense is poor (23rd overall).
Based on regular season success, this is good news for Houston.
The Rockets were 4-0 this season against the Timberwolves, winning the four games by an average margin of almost 16 points. The Rockets enjoyed a 17.4-point difference in Net Rating in their matchups against the Timberwolves. The Rockets outperformed only one other West playoff team by a greater margin (Utah, 17.5).
James Harden averaged 27.3 points against Minnesota this season but shot below 40% (39.0%). Chris Paul averaged 16.0 points, 8.3 assists and 8.0 rebounds. Clint Capela has been a beast against Minnesota’s bigs, averaging 18.8 points on 78.9% shooting and 10 rebounds.
Another reason this is a good matchup for the Rockets: They take the most three-point shots per game in the league at 42.3 attempts a night. The Timberwolves take the fewest at 22.5.
However, I would add a little bit of caution. The number one reason the Rockets excelled against Minnesota is they dominated from beyond the arc, connecting on 43.7% from deep in the four games. The Rockets’ role players thrived: PJ Tucker (55.6%), Luc Mbah a Moute (55.6%), Ryan Anderson (50%), Gerald Green (45.5%), Eric Gordon (44.0%) and Trevor Ariza (42.9%) all shot well above their averages from deep.
As we know, three-point shooting comes and goes. Is that kind of success sustainable? We’ll find out, but it’s a good matchup for the Rockets against a strong offensive/weak defensive squad.
As for the rest of the bracket, the San Antonio Spurs (7th seed) will face the Golden State Warriors (2nd seed). After Utah lost in Portland, the Jazz (5th seed) will go to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder (4th seed). If the Rockets advance past Minnesota, they will play the winner of Jazz-Thunder.
1 Houston vs 8 Minnesota
4 Oklahoma City vs 5 Utah
2 Golden State vs 7 San Antonio
3 Portland vs 6 New Orleans
So get ready…the games are about to matter once again.