Mar 6, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Mavs beat the Rockets 112-108. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (22-40) @ Houston Rockets (35-30)

Kevin McHale has his Houston Rockets positioned as the 7th seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. After a home-and-home split against Phoenix, 8 of Houston’s next 9 games will be at the Toyota Center (where the Rockets are 21-9 this season). With a game and a half separating them from both the 6th and 8th seed, the Rockets could get some lift in the standings and avoid a first round matchup with the 2nd-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, drawing either the Memphis Grizzlies or Los Angeles Clippers, who are currently separated by a half game as the 3rd and 4th seeds. They’ll probably have to figure out — or at least want to try and play — some semblance of defense once they actually get to the playoffs. But one thing at a time…

Rockets probable starting lineup:

PG Jeremy Lin

SG James Harden

SF Chandler Parsons

PF Donatas Motiejunas

C Omer Asik

Harden put up 28 points on 9-17 (53%) shooting, with 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals a game for the month of February. Those are alpha-guard numbers and McHale has ridden Harden, erm… hard — the guy is averaging 40 minutes a game over the same span.

Former Wolves draft pick, Motiejunas, has started the last 7 games and is coming off a career-high 19 points, on 7-12 shooting, with 2 threes, 5 rebounds and a block. He’s averaging 20 minutes a game over the last 5 — mostly because the Rockets have no other power forwards besides rookie Thomas Robinson, but still. Just sayin’, the Wolves have a lot of former draft picks not playing for them right now.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Ricky Rubio

SG Luke Ridnour

SF Mickael Gelabale

PF Derrick Williams

C Greg Stiemsma

Asik should have an easier time continuing his trend averaging 13 rebounds and 9 points on 55% shooting over the last 5 games if Nikola Pekovic sits out, as expected. Pek and Andrei Kirilenko both did not travel with the team to Indiana, so it would be quite a pleasant surprise if they turned up in Houston. That said, Stiemsma had some of his better moments bodying up the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert as the game wore on in Indiana. He should get plenty of the same from Asik in Houston tonight.

Since Rubio’s triple-double in the Wolves blowout win over San Antonio, the world has taken notice of what they haven’t over the last 6 weeks. Namely, Ricky’s back and better than ever. The last 5, Rubio is at 15 points, over 2 steals, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds a game while inching ever closer to almost-respectable shooting, at 38% from the field. For February, he had 13, 10, 5 and 3 steals, so it’s nothing new. It’s a standard.

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Tags: Houston Rockets Minnesota Timberwolves Pregame Preview

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