The Houston Rockets made a big acquisition in the off-season, picking up point guard Chris Paul, but that is just one of the reasons this team overtook the Golden State Warriors and came home first in the NBA’s Western Conference. They put together a number of impressive winning streaks on the way to a 65-17 record (41-39-2 ATS). And they are taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the NBA playoffs in a matchup between the #1 and #8 seeds.
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The Rockets are, of course, led by Mike D’Antoni, who was known for his “Seven Seconds or Less” approach to offense while he was running the Phoenix Suns. With Houston he has found a great place to accelerate things. His team is #1 in the league in Offensive Rating, but interestingly enough, the Rockets were only 13th in the NBA in the “Pace” category. That basically puts them near the middle of the pack, and it might answer some questions for those people who would normally be concerned that a team couldn’t win a title unless they slowed things down.
What D’Antoni definitely has his team doing is throwing three-pointers into the air. They are the league leaders in triples attempted (42.3 per game) and made, but that doesn’t mean they are the most accurate, as they have hit only 36.2%. But it’s volume the head coach wants.
These teams met four times this season. In the most recent encounter, on March 18, Houston won by nine points, and the Rockets won the other three by 18 points apiece.
2018 NBA Playoff Odds – Rockets vs Timberwolves:
In the 2018 NBA Playoff Odds that have been posted at the start of this series at BetAnySports, the Rockets were huge favorites:
Houston Rockets -3000
Minnesota Timberwolves +1500
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James Harden is the guy who dominates the ball for the Rockets. He is first in the NBA in “Usage” and scoring (30.4 per game), and he shot 86 more free throws than anyone else in the league. Houston picked up Paul, and there were some questions about how he and Harden would co-exist, but you can see the results. Paul sacrificed something on the offensive end, tallying 18.6 points a game, and he also chalked up 7.9 assists. Paul is one of the top assist men in NBA history, yet he wasn’t even first on his own team. Harden handles the ball so much that he was this in the league in that category.
There are plenty of effective role players on the Houston roster, which is what you need when you have two superstars like they have. Eric Gordon, currently nursing a bad ankle, had an 18-point average; PJ Tucker is in his eighth season, and the 6-6,. 245-pound forward always figures out a way to contribute. Joe Johnson, the 36-year-old seven-time All-Star, is available to come off the bench. All of these guys are going to loom more important because of the separated shoulder suffered by another role player, Luc Mbah a Moute, who won’t be available for this series.
The unsung hero is Clint Capela, who has quietly developed into one of the league’s most effective centers. Capela gets it done at both ends; in fact, he is among the top five in the NBA in both Offensive AND Defensive Rating. He is fifth in Total Rebound Percentage, and #1 in field goal percentage, not to mention second in blocked shots per game. He is overshadowed on this team, but the way he handles Minnesota Karl-Anthony Towns may be the key to the Rockets staying out of trouble in this series.
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By Charles Jay