Houston Answers Call of the Wild and Ambushes Timberwolves in Game 1

Houston Rockets

Doug Upstone

Saturday, April 14, 2018 6:11 PM UTC

Saturday, Apr. 14, 2018 6:11 PM UTC

Minnesota needed all 82 games this season to end their 14-year playoff drought. Houston was essentially in the playoffs by Valentine's Day. These two collide in Game 1 Sunday at 9:05 EDT on TNT.

We will find out right away about the state of mind of the West's top-seed Houston and No. 8 Minnesota in the series-opening encounter. The NBA odds have the Rockets as an 11.5-point favorite for Game 1 and if they want to sweep the Timberwolves, they play with a purpose and set the tone for the series. At the same time, we will learn if the T-Wolves are just happy to make the postseason or if they expect to do damage and make this a series and go toe to toe with Houston.

Minnesota (47-35, 38-41-3 ATS) vs Houston (65-17, 41-39-2 ATS)

[/]{"component":"oddswidget", "eventId":3447934, "sportsbooksIds":[999996,19,180,139,169], "LineTypeId":1, "PeriodTypeId":1}[/]

Free NBA Pick: Houston -11Best Line Offered: at Bovada

The Rockets are the largest series favorite at Bovada at -2100 (you wager that amount to win $100), with Minnesota a +975 choice. Here is the scoop on both teams.

The Rockets Are Ready To Take Off

There was considerable consternation about Chris Paul and James Harden working out as teammates. But like all teams that assembled with multiple superstars, each has to give up a part of their game in order to make the team better, which is what they did.

As remarkable as this was, especially by Harden, what transformed Houston into a legitimate NBA-caliber champion was a dramatic improvement on defense. Here is what we mean.

Last year the Rockets were 21st in field goal percentage allowed and they climbed all the way to 6th this season. Their defensive efficiency also saw an incredible improvement, moving from 15th is sixth during this campaign.

This is all the more amazing since coach Mike D’Antoni is not known for the X's and O's on the defensive end, but he and his coaches convinced the players to understand what it took and added veteran players to the roster and it clicked. It was a given Houston would score, however, now they generate stops also.

Minnesota Has To Focus Quarter by Quarter and Forget About Series

Nobody is thinking the Timberwolves have a prayer in this series. These clubs have met four times since January and Minnesota has lost by 15.7 PPG. Since coach Tom Thibodeau is a master micro-manager, that has to be his team's approach.

'Tibs' will ask his leaders, Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague to lead the way and take each contest 12 minutes at a time. This takes the pressure off of trying to win the game and focus on what they can more control by effort and efficiency. That should really help young guys and first-time playoff participants Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Having more experienced players who know the ropes like Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford is also a benefit.

What To Expect for Outcome

For NBA picks, Houston gets the in the series opener and here is why. Though many of the T-Wolves main players have been in this environment before, they have not played together. Look for nerves and being jittery to matter, with Minnesota to play better in Game 2 and at home in Game 3.

With the Timberwolves a below average defensive crew, ranked 17th in points allowed and 29th in field goal percentage permitted, the Rockets ability to spread them out is important to drive to the lane. When the Minny tries to help, that leaves a team making NBA-best 15 three's a game to have numerous open looks.

comment here