Can the Rockets Overcome their Thanksgiving Hangover?
After a five game streak including wins over the Warriors, Pacers, and Nuggets, many thought the Rockets were over their early season woes. Post-thanksgiving however, the Rockets experienced a losing streak to the Pistons, Cavaliers, Wizards, and Mavericks. Frankly speaking, James Harden cannot carry this team.
Chris Paul has been hurt and Eric Gordon seems to be colder than a frozen turkey. When the Rockets have put out lineups including Isaiah Hartenstein, Gary Clark, and Danuel House, it makes more sense as to why they’ve not been successful. The Rockets lack the depth and ability of their 17-18 roster.
Harden has fewer outlets, which means more players are comfortable staying home and coming to help on coming to help without fear of conversion. Compounded on that, their switch-heavy defensive plan is incredibly less effective when Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute are no longer on that end. The return of the Paul and Harden backcourt will help a great deal, but with tight race in the West it’s difficult to see the Rockets climbing their way back to the top.
The T-Wolves Recent MVP has been Robert Covington?
It was thought that you would never get true return for a player of Jimmy Butler’s caliber. Sure, the Toronto Raptors acquired F Kawhi Leonard in exchange for G-F Demar Derozan, but that seemed more a gentlemen’s agreement between two exemplary franchises than a fleecing. In came Dario Saric and Robert Covington and the Wolves have reeled off four wins since November 23rd.
Since joining Minnesota Covington has been leading the NBA in steals and deflections while also leading the team in scoring in two of their last four wins. Yes, Covington was 1st Team All-Defense last year but there’s more to it than that. At 6’9 he can cover one more position on the court than Jimmy Butler could and as such finds himself switching checks almost every play.
Covington has also helped Towns and Wiggins on the defensive end, both leading them vocally and seemingly improving their efforts by proxy alone. Covington famously said, “…Tell guys if they f****n’ up that they f****n’ up.” Perhaps not eloquent, but the gritty attitude of Butler has almost been maintained be it with a more encouraging and committed stance toward the team in Covington.
James Ennis is a Bright Spot in the Rockets Dark Start
In almost every quantitative measure, James Ennis is looking just like Trevor Ariza did with the Houston Rockets. Their PER falling within 0.1 of each other while their shooting efficiency falls within the same percentile. Of course, Ariza’s veteran experience proved him to be a better playmaker and defender at this point in Ennis’ career.
Ennis has still proven to be incredibly promising as he’s shown the ability to switch out on shooters and is hitting an impressive 39% from three on the year. You could very well call Ennis Ariza-lite.
There have been rumors that the Rockets want to bring Ariza back, less than a year after he signed a one-year $15 million deal with the Phoenix Suns. Contract-wise a straight swap wouldn’t work and surely the Rockets want to keep the productive youth Ennis for themselves. But with the Rockets season a small streak from slipping through their fingers, they may need to decide soon whether or not they see him for their future or as trade-bait.
Andrew Wiggins Needs to Improve
Yahoo! journalist Marc Spears said that Andrew Wiggins is soft because he is Canadian. Spears also said that if Wiggins were a tough Canadian he’d be playing hockey, not basketball. Now Spears is a legendary NBA writer and critic, but there must surely be more to Wiggins’ struggles than toughness.
It turns out that toughness isn’t a quantifiable measure, so Spears’ argument goes out the window. What is true is that Wiggins is shooting the worst of his career from the field and is getting to the line a measly 2.3 times per game. So what has changed? Of course the Butler drama had a negative affect on the team, but really it’s been Derrick Rose. The former MVP with the Bulls has been a revelation for the Wolves this season and has thus taken playmaking duties from Wiggins when he is on the court.
Never a strong shooter from distance, Wiggins is more often than not relegated to cutter or corner spot-up when Rose is on the floor. Maple Jordan is most effective with the ball in his hands but is not as dangerous an option as Towns in the post or Rose in the pick-and-roll. Hopefully Wiggins can reemerge by taking advantage of hustle plays—offensive rebounds, fast-break points, points off turnovers—to find his form, because Thibodeau is showing no real interest in giving Wiggins the keys to the offence.
What’s at stake?
Both teams need to find their rhythm. The Timberwolves reeled off a nice win streak, but it was against meager competition. The wins are important to catch up in the West, but winning against sub-.500 teams is fool’s gold in a competitive Western Conference. The Wolves need to show they’re competing now and getting Wiggins and Towns leading the charge is paramount.
It’s hard to look at this Rockets team and think they took the Warriors to seven games last playoffs. They apparently had a shot at Jimmy Butler but didn’t want to deal Eric Gordon, who has repaid their faith by shooting 29% from three. It’s hard to see where the Rockets can improve beyond getting healthy and even then they seem a role player or two away from being the force they were last season. Beating a team like Minnesota may restore some faith in this depleted roster.
Questions to answer:
Will Thibodeau give Wiggins the green light?
Can Harden carry the Rockets until Paul returns?
What assets do the Rockets have to improve?
Will Josh Okogie ever leave Thibs doghouse?
Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves Predictions and Odds
The odds makers have the Houston Rockets favoured over the Minnesota Timberwolves by 2.5 with and over/under of 110.