The Rockets finally found out who their first-round opponent in the playoffs will be when the complex set of variables that set playoff seeding for the Western Conference played out on Wednesday night. Minnesota, who finished their season with a win over Denver, locked up the eight seed and knocked the Nuggets out of the playoffs in the process.
As a result, Minnesota will open at Houston in the first round. So, how do the teams match up?
Jeff Teague vs. Chris Paul
Jeff Teague has had a nice season for Minnesota, but he will be facing a future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul, who has really helped to focus the Rockets and keep them that way throughout the season. His defense should prove difficult for Teague.
Jimmy Butler vs. James Harden
Jimmy Butler is a very solid player and has improved dramatically since coming off an injury. But, James Harden is having one of the most statistically dominant seasons in league history. He has improved in nearly all facets of his game. In truth, these two probably won't be matched up most of the time when Minnesota is on offense, but good luck to Butler on the defensive end.
Andrew Wiggins vs. Trevor Ariza
A sports radio commentator recently summed up Andrew Wiggins well: He thinks he is better than he actually is. Wiggins is talented, to be sure, but he is a terrible shooter from inside the arc (43 percent) and out (33 percent). He has fantastic gifts athletically, but he's not close to a top defensive player. Trevor Ariza just keeps rolling along as one of the best corner three shooters in the league and an above average defender on the wing.
Taj Gibson vs. P.J. Tucker
This is strength versus strength in the paint. Gibson scores more than Tucker, but he has to. It should be very physical when these two meet. Gibson has the advantage inside, but Tucker shot 37 percent from beyond the arc and will force Gibson away from the basket where he is less comfortable. Should be a fun one to watch though we might see Tucker chasing Karl-Anthony Towns around the perimeter on occasion.
Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Clint Capela
Clint Capela is one of the most improved young talents in the NBA, playing his role of running the floor, rebounding and being a perfect alley-oop partner for his guards. But Karl-Anthony Towns is already one of the best players in the league. He can play inside out and is the toughest guard for opposing teams. He is their best hope for extending the series beyond four games.
The Rockets bench, which includes Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Gerald Green, Joe Johnson and Nene, makes them one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Gordon and Green are in the team's top five in scoring. Minnesota drops off significantly after their starting five with only Jamal Crawford averaging double digits and no one over six per game after that. It is most often that the Rockets bench exposes the second team of opponents and that should continue in round one unabated.
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Coaching: Tom Thibodeau vs. Mike D'Antoni
This is a fascinating matchup of D'Antoni's high-powered offense versus Tom Thibodeau's stingy defense. That might be true if the T-Wolves were actually good defensively. Remarkably, Minnesota is in the top 10 in offense but the bottom 10 in defense. They are not good at defending in the paint or beyond the arc where the Rockets excel. Overall, for a team that was a chic pick for the Western Conference crown in the offseason, this year has been a disappointment. D'Antoni, on the other hand, has masterfully kept the Rockets fresh and the offense impossible to defend. The addition of defensive expert Jeff Bzdelik to the coaching staff has turned the Rockets from a mediocre defensive team to top six in defensive rating.
Bottom Line: Rockets in 5
On paper, this matchup doesn't seem nearly as lopsided as it was during the regular season when the Rockets beat the Timberwolves every time they faced them, three times by 18 points and once by 9. But, when you get down to the youth and inexperience of Minnesota, the ridiculous overmatches in the backcourt and the bench, this is clearly the Rockets series.