Mar 20, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) shoots the ball during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Wolves (39-39) vs. Rockets (52-22)

Tonight’s game between the Wolves and the playoff-bound Rockets carries more meaning than how it might appear on the surface.

Sure, the Rockets have clinched a playoff spot and the Wolves have been mathematically eliminated from the post-season for nearly a week now. But Houston is clinging onto a 1 1/2 game lead for the fourth and final seed that comes paired with home-court advantage for the first-round of the playoffs.

And for their part, the Wolves are looking to continue their alternating pattern of impressive wins and frustrating losses. Last Friday, Minnesota defeated the Miami Heat in South Beach in double-overtime, only to follow it up with a Kevin Love-less loss in Orlando to the lowly Magic the following evening.

On Tuesday of this week, the Timberwolves destroyed the mighty Spurs (Tony Parker-less, but still…), and dropped an ugly game to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

So here we are, due for another big win. The 52-win Rockets, fighting to host a home playoff series, are in town with their three-point parade. The Wolves are still without Chase Budinger and Shabazz Muhammad, and it is likely that Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin will each miss another contest as well. The defense has clearly improved with more Gorgui Dieng, Ronny Turiaf, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and less Martin. But the offense has struggled for stretches, especially in Orlando without Love and at times on Wednesday with Alexey Shved initiating the offense with the second unit as J.J. Barea missed the game due to back spasms.

Barea has been largely terrible this season, but Shved isn’t an improvement. It’s likely that J.J. will return to action tonight, which will hopefully help the second unit out a bit, especially if Rick Adelman elects to play Barea and Ricky Rubio in tandem, which he’s been doing a lot more of lately.

The Rockets will score oodles of points, so expect tonight’s contest to be fast-paced and high-scoring. It should be fun, and the Wolves have a legitimate chance to pull out another pleasantly refreshing outcome on Friday night at Target Center. Tip-off is at 7:00 CT, and we’ll have a recap later on in the night.

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Tags: J.J. Barea Kevin Love Minnesota Timberwolves NBA News Nikola Pekovic Ricky Rubio

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