Rockets lose 121-111, Harden ties Wilt

3-pointers from Rockets loss to Timberwolves

In their final game before the all-star break the Houston Rockets traveled to Minnesota to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. It was a back and forth battle between a T-Wolves team strong in the interior and a Rockets team more comfortable raining shots from distance. Minnesota would turn the tide late in the third with key defensive stops, defeating Houston 121-111 behind an impressive showing from rookie Josh Okogie. Houston is now 33-24, first in the Southwest Division, and fifth in the Western Conference.

Strength versus strength

The Timberwolves are big. The Rockets can shoot. Wednesday ultimately came down to who was the saltiest on defense because very little was done to challenge each other's strengths. Houston fired off 53 three pointers in a contest where they were bludgeoned in the paint 70-36. The difference is that the Rocket's shots weren't falling, shooting a collective 35.8% from behind the line. Poor shooting, coupled with timely defense from the opponent more often results in defeat.

Josh Okogie

The Timberwolves rookie drew one of the most difficult assignments in the NBA when he lined up across from James Harden Wednesday night. Undeterred, Okogie went to work and came up clutch late in the third with five straight points to take the lead. Okogie immediately set up on the other end after burying a three, and as Harden lurched back for his trademark step back 3-pointer, Okogie lunged forward and stuffed the shot before the ball left Hardens hands. Shot clock violation. Turnover. While Harden still finished the night with another eye-popping scoring performance, it was obvious that play was the turning point from which the Timberwolves built their momentum to finish the game with a victory.

Streak watch

These days the first question Rockets fans have is whether or not the team won. Immediately following is whether or not Harden scored 30 points to continue his unreal streak. Harden started the night off slow, scoring only five points in the first quarter. He shook off the slow start to the tune of 15 in the second, 11 in the third, and 11 in the fourth. Harden finished with 42 points on the night, extending his streak of consecutive 30+ point performances to 31. The streak ties Wilt Chamberlain for second most in NBA history, behind Wilt Chamberlain's other unworldly record of 65.

Rockets player of the game:

James Harden: 42 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds

Timberwolves player of the game:

Jeff Teague: 27 points, 12 assists, 3 rebounds

Next up


Nothing for a week. Following the All Star break, Houston travels to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers next Thursday at 9:30 pm.

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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