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Preview: Houston Rockets (15-12) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (13-12)

After hanging 121 points on the Memphis Grizzlies last Sunday and then 120 on the Chicago Bulls last night (teams who, respectively, rank 2nd and 3rd in the league in points allowed), it is safe to say Kevin McHale’s Houston Rockets can score. Also a hint, the winners of 4-straight lead the league in points per game (105.4).

Rockets probable starting lineup:

PG Jeremy Lin

SG James Harden

SF Chandler Parsons

PF Marcus Morris

C Omer Asik

Lin has been hot during the Rockets’ 4-game winning streak, averaging over 18 points, 9 assists on 58% shooting (up from his season averages of 11, 6, and 42%).

Harden is being featured like he never could have in Oklahoma City. Compared to his career averages, he’s playing 11 more minutes (38), taking almost 8 more shots (17), shooting 1.5 more 3s (5.5), getting to the line 5 times more  (10),  and scoring 11 more points a game (25). His assists have almost doubled (2.8 to 5.4) while his turnovers actually have (1.8 to 3.7).

Despite being the focus of every Houston opponent’s defense as their unquestioned #1 option, he’s hitting within 2% of his career averages from the field, from 3 and the line — like he never left OKC’s 2nd unit. A model of efficiency?

Tellingly, his fouls have actually gone down (2.1 from 2.5) while his rebounds, steals and blocks are within 1 of his career averages — he has been asked to score first and second. My translation: Harden is an all-world playmaker you can score on.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Luke Ridnour

SG Alexey Shved

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Kevin Love

C Nikola Pekovic

Love is expected back, following a one game absence due to being poked in the eye vs. Oklahoma City. Hard to say what adjustments he would have forced the New York Knicks into making in Madison Square Garden, but it’s safe to say his presence would have influenced Carmelo Anthony’s night, one way or another.

Like New York, the Rockets shoot a ton of 3s (27 attempts a game, 2nd to the Knicks). Unlike 3rd ranked New York (39.5%), the Rockets are tied for 13th best when it comes to making them (36%). Still, a slight bit better than our Wolves (19 attempts a game, with 30% being successful).

Harden, Parsons, Morris, Toney Douglas and Carlos Delfino each attempt more than 3 a game, all making above 33%.

The perimeter penetration of Harden and Lin (and the resulting kick-out 3s) has propelled (Get it? They’re) the Rockets to 8th in the league in assists. They also get out and run the break well, knowing opportunities to score are there because they share the ball and rebound it 6th best in the league (With Asik leading them at 11 per contest).

However, the Rockets are also 29th in points allowed (103.4). Should the Wolves control the boards, they could be able to (somewhat) limit Houston’s opportunities in transition and possibly expose a thin Rockets front line.

Intriguing matchups include everybody from Shved and Harden, to Pek and Asik — even AK and Parsons — but a healthy Love should absolutely feast.

Rubio has been cleared for a minutes increase, opening the door for his revenge of last year’s last minute loss to the Knicks.

Tags: Houston Rockets James Harden Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

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