LOOKING AHEAD

Rockets-Timberwolves round 1 playoff preview

James Harden and Chris Paul should make easy work of Minnesota. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It only took 82 games for the playoff picture to be set, and as the Rio Grande Valley Vipers--I mean the Rockets bench tipped off against the Sacramento Kings, it was finally determined that Houston would be facing the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves snapped a 14-year playoff drought with their win Wednesday night, and the reward for their efforts will be a Rockets team that didn't just sweep them in the regular season, they were blown out in almost every contest.

In four matchups the Rockets swept the Timberwolves, averaging 123 points per games to Minnesota's 107 points per game. As we await the start of the postseason, let's take a look at the position by position matchups.

Point Guard: Chris Paul versus Jeff Teague

Advantage: Houston

Chris Paul's ability to create his own shot commands opposing defenses to remain honest instead of shading over to shut James Harden down. Add in the fact that he's been creating shots for teammates long before Harden finished this season third in the league in assists, and you have a dangerous backcourt that can drive and score or rain it from deep.

Jeff Teague is a capable scorer but is used more as a facilitator in a lineup that features far more firepower in other positions.

Shooting Guard: James Harden versus Jimmy Butler

Advantage: Houston

Expect Jimmy Butler to get his during the series offensively, but he's not James Harden. Harden, a practical lock to secure his first MVP award, will be the deciding factor in not only this series, but the entire playoffs. Previous playoff appearances featuring a much more overused and exhausted Harden have left a bad taste in Rockets fans’ mouths, as his performance has tended to drop sharply. Much more attention has been paid to keeping his minutes down and focusing on rest, so this postseason should hopefully not be a repeat.

Either way, Jimmy Buckets doesn't take James Buckets in this matchup.

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza versus Andrew Wiggins

Advantage: Push

Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins definitely wins the athletic category running away, and his continued scoring ability development overshadows Ariza’s. Ariza, however is not meant to be the offensive focus of the Rockets. You point Ariza at a player, and Ariza shuts that player down defensively, while knocking down open threes created by Harden and Paul. Wiggins will score more than Ariza, but Ariza’s defensive presence will make up for it.

Power Forward: P.J. Tucker versus Taj Gibson

Advantage: Minnesota

P.J. Tucker is a stocky small forward whose relentless defense and three point shooting ability earned him the starting role over Ryan Anderson late in the season. Taj Gibson is a much more prototypical power forward, with a nasty defensive streak. So while Tucker may beat him on fast breaks and help stretch the defense, Gibson's size will be a lot for Tucker to handle. He'll have to channel his inner Chuck Hayes this series to help neutralize Gibson's above average inside presence.

Center: Clint Capela versus Karl Anthony-Towns

Advantage: Minnesota

Clint Capela has cemented himself as an integral part of what the Rockets do on both sides of the ball. He's an athletic center that understands his role offensively and serves as the Rockets’ primary post defender--a role he has excelled in this season. He is in essence a role player at this moment and on this team, but his presence is much more impactful than that term implies.

Karl Anthony-Towns, however, is an absolute freak of nature. Seemingly developed in a lab to embody the perfect center, KAT will be an absolute handful to contain. He's more athletic than most wings, and has the size and length to dominate the paint on both ends of the court. Capela will honestly only be expected to try his best, because KAT will be coming to Houston hungry.

Bench advantage: Houston

The Timberwolves have Jamal Crawford who is still a handful off the bench, but aside from that, the bench simply does not stand out.

The Rockets, even without Luc Mbah a Moute, feature plenty of firepower. Aside from reigning Sixth Man of the year, Eric Gordon, Houston will throw a scrappy Gerald Green, three-point threat Ryan Anderson, and the veteran center Nene--whom the Rockets have done their best to keep fresh for the postseason--at the Timberwolves for 48 minutes. This is where the Rockets will impose their will.

Verdict:

The Rockets are simply too talented and too deep to lose to this promising young Timberwolves team. From a position by position breakdown it may seem closer than it is, but the difference is that the positions that the Rockets are superior in, they are exponentially more superior.

Prediction: Rockets in five

 

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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