It’s cold and wet in Houston. Dreary gray skies and swampy, dribbling rain aren’t new in Houston. What’s new is that the sunny blue skies the Rockets hoped for have been replaced by a chilly, unpleasant drizzle of unmet expectation. It could be far worse. The Rockets could be caught up in the storm which seems to have enveloped both New York teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, or the tornado of injury could have struck. Instead, the Minnesota Timberwolves head to Houston tomorrow, and they’re also fully familiar with chilly, wet days.
Both teams need to prove that they aren’t in that middle tier of Western Conference powers. The Rockets, presumed an elite team, have looked sullen and apathetic through much of the young season. If the pattern doesn’t change, the Rockets may find themselves looking at the wrong side of a 1-8 seed matchup in the spring. The Timberwolves were seen as a team on the playoff bubble, especially after a year completely devastated by injury. They’ve surpassed expectations so far, but have been slowing down with a few unexpected losses. Both teams need all the wins they can get in an increasingly brutal Western Conference, and both teams are likely to attack in force.
Longtime Rockets fans will be familiar with Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman, the high-profile coach who helmed the Rockets from 2007 to 2011. His partnership with shooting guard Kevin Martin started in Sacramento, traveled to Houston and now finds its way to Minnesota, where Kevin Martin is having a solid year. The entire team was predicted to be an offensive powerhouse behind the playmaking of Ricky Rubio and the marksmanship of Kevin Love, but their defense has been surprisingly capable so far. The Wolves split their series against the Los Angeles Clippers, a feat which the Rockets found impossible.
The primary concern for the Rockets isn’t Kevin Love, a player who’s making a solid case for MVP so far. The worry isn’t Ricky Rubio, either, an exceptional on-ball defender at the point guard position and a passer extraordinaire. The biggest issue the Rockets face in this matchup is Rick Adelman, a man who’s not only one of the most offensively gifted coaches in the NBA, but also a man with intimate knowledge of the Rockets and their methods. Aaron Brooks may be the only player on the Rockets who played in the Adelman years, but that won’t save them. The Wolves have played the Rockets tough for the past few seasons, and Adelman’s prowess is a huge part of that.
How do the Rockets use their talent and size to beat a coach who is quite frankly more crafty than Rockets Kevin McHale? That’s easier said than done, and it’s not particularly easily said. Forcing the other team to play Houston’s way is the go-to method for success in most situations, but in this case a high-paced high-scoring affair is right up their alley. Going to Howard in the post might be a workable plan, given that big man Nikola Pekovic is an able defender but not in the elite. Kevin Martin’s defense also leaves much to be desired, making a pick and roll involving his cover (presumably James Harden) the best choice.
This may become a nightmare matchup for Houston, with Jones Struggling to stay with Love while Rubio dances circles around Jeremy Lin. Harden’s tendency toward ball watching will leave Mertin open for plenty of backdoor cuts, a trademark of Adelman’s offense. If the Rockets are to win, they’ll do it on the offensive end, giving us a front-row seat to a high-flying Western Conference shootout yet again. Houston’s designed to be able to win those kinds of matches. But with the gray clouds hovering over them lately, they’re just as good at losing those kind of shootouts.