Minnesota Timberwolves draw Houston Rockets in first round match-up of NBA Playoffs!
What a season! It came down to the wire for the Minnesota Timberwolves - having to battle the Denver Nuggets for a 1-game playoff for the 8th seed in the West. In overtime fashion, the Timberwolves fended off Nikola Jokic and company for a 112-106 victory. Andrew Wiggins defied his sub-par percentage (64%) and sank two clutch free throws while Taj Gibson played brilliant defense on Jokic with time running out to seal the deal. The Timberwolves finished 47-35 on the season, improving their win total by 16 from last season (31-51)! In their locking down the last playoff spot in the West, the franchise broke a 13 season drought. You could say Minnesota fans haven't been used to watching their team play into April for some time now!
Round 1: #1 Houston Rockets (65-17) vs #8 Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)
Chris Paul and James Harden have been unbelievable together in their first season as teammates. Harden averaged over 30 points per game for the first time in his career, making a case for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, while Paul averaged 18 points and 8 assists in his 13th year of play. In Mike D'Antoni fashion, the Rockets play extremely fast with excellent spacing on the floor, making it easy for both Paul and Harden to distribute off quick dribble penetration to perimeter shooters like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Clint Capela has emerged as an enforcer in the paint, turning their defensive unit into a scary 6th in points against (103.9).
The one thing the Timberwolves have going for them is their player-by-player match-ups. Jimmy Butler has made a name for himself as a standout defensive wing player (maybe the second best in the league to Kawhi Leonard), which is just what the doctor ordered in limiting James Harden's scoring capabilities. If Harden turns it on, this series could be a 4-0 sweep easily. Additionally, Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau's notorious "Ice" defense forces perimeter players towards the deep corners and underneath the three point line. By placing Taj Gibson on Clint Capela down low, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have an opportunity to use their length in defending the outside shot. Jeff Teague will really have to step it up against Paul, along with Jamal Crawford scoring off the bench to neutralize the Rocket's impressive second unit.
Though it looks grim for the Timberwolves, it is exciting to be apart of playoff basketball nonetheless! Let the NBA playoffs begin!
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