The two most renowned local steakhouses in Minneapolis are Manny’s and Murray’s. Best I can tell neither Manny nor Murray has wolf on his menu, but the Timberwolves should be meat in their first playoff appearance in 14 years. It’s not an automatic that the Rockets dispatch the Timberwolves in the first round, but it is a mismatch on paper.
The Rockets won an astounding 65 games this season, 18 more than Minnesota. Not that regular season meetings are close to foolproof in dictating how a playoff matchup will go, but the Rockets whipped the Wolves in all four games this season winning by 18, 18, 18, and 9 points. The Rockets were the best offensive team in the NBA this season. They should carve up the league’s fourth worst defense. The T’Wolves can score, ranking fourth best offensively. However, Minnesota attempted and made the fewest three pointers in the league. Without stepping up there it’s tough to see the Timberwolves hanging with the Rockets’ firepower over the course of the series. The 22-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns is an absolute stud offensive player. He is a 55-percent shooter from the floor, a 42-percent 3-point maker and 86 percent at the line. And props to KAT for playing all 82 games of the regular season, as did fellow Minny starters Andrew Wiggins and Taj Gibson. The Rockets’ defensive depth takes a hit with the injury absence of Luc Mbah a Moute, but losing Luc is no series shifter. Jimmy Butler is a top tier defender, but unless James Harden’s level of play dramatically dips Butler shouldn’t dramatically disrupt Harden’s effectiveness. Thinking Rockets in five.
The way the cookie crumbled at the end of the congested Western Conference race below the Rockets and Warriors means the Rockets in round two will (better!) face either the Thunder or the Jazz. Upset potential would loom larger there.
Five times since the NBA expanded to 16 playoff teams in 1984, a number eight seed has stunned a number one seed. The first occurrence presumably aided the Rockets’ route to their first NBA Championship in 1994. The first round was a best-of-five in those days, and Denver rallied from two games down to shock Seattle. Most recently the 76ers bumped off the Bulls in 2012 after MVP Derrick Rose tore an ACL in game one. That came the year after Memphis ousted San Antonio. In 1999, The Jeff Van Gundy-coached Knicks took out Miami, and kept on going all the way to the NBA Final before losing to the Spurs. The cake-taker eight topples one was in 2007 when Don Nelson’s 42-40 Golden State team (the Warriors’ first playoff appearance in 13 years) befuddled and overwhelmed Avery Johnson’s 67-15 Dallas Mavericks’ team.
Getting the boot
A little bit of a bummer that the NBA scheduled Rockets-Timberwolves Game 1 for Sunday night, since the Astros and Rangers are the weekend’s Sunday Night Baseball game.
The Rangers ran rings around the Astros for years with the Silver Boot took up seeming permanent residence in Arlington. That was then. Now, the Astros are a juggernaut poised to be excellent for years. The Rangers are naut. As in naut good. And not looking like they’ll be good any time soon. Sunday night’s pitching matchup perfectly frames where the Astros are vs. where the Rangers are. The Astros pitch Justin Verlander, a 35 year old horse in prime physical condition on top of his game. The Rangers pitch Bartolo Colon who next month turns 45, is listed at 5 feet eleven inches tall, weighing 285 pounds.
Nothing wrong with the Astros 9-4 start, though it does leave them in second place in the American League West later than they were ever out of the lead last season. It would be nice to see flashes of George Springer World Series MVP sometime soon. Since his season opening leadoff home run Springer has been sub-replacement level, batting .157 without a second dinger. Over his last seven games Springer has been worse: three measly singles in 28 at bats (.107). Less than 10 percent of the season has been played. Yeah, let’s hold off from any silly notion about suggesting A.J. Hinch demote Springer from the leadoff spot. The guy is in the heart of his prime at 28 years old. Springer can be streaky, but season-to-season he’s been consistently very good, and last year excellent. Of course he could have an off year relative to 2017, but Springer should still hit .260+, with a solid number of walks drawn, and with 25+ homers.
1. Andre Ingram’s 10 years in the making NBA debut against the Rockets Tuesday is as cool as anything in sports so far this year. 2. It will be laughable if the Cleveland Browns draft Josh Allen No. 1 overall. 3. The NBA’s greatest Allens: Bronze-Lucius Silver-Iverson Gold-Ray