Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Houston Rockets NBA Expert Free Pick & Preview 03/17/19

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The Minnesota Timberwolves (32-37; 34-35 ATS) and the Houston Rockets (43-26; 31-36-2 ATS) will close down the series tonight at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. The Timberwolves have won the first two head-to-head matchups of the season in Minneapolis including a 121-111 victory on February 13, 2019, when playing as 4-point underdogs. However, those wins couldn’t help Minnesota to make it to the postseason, while the Rockets will be in the playoffs for the seventh year in a row.

Injuries/Suspensions

The Timberwolves are coming to Texas without Robert Covington (knee) and Jeff Teague (foot), while Derrick Rose (elbow) is listed as questionable, so they could be quite short-handed tonight. The Rockets could miss James Harden (cervical strain) who’s questionable for the game, and coach Mike D’Antoni indicated that Harden needs some rest.

The Line

The Rockets opened as 6-point favorites despite Harden’s injury, and the total has been set at 225.5 points. The Timberwolves are 3-6 straight up and just 2-7 ATS in their last nine outings, and the over is 7-2 during that span. The Rockets are 10-1 straight up and 5-5-1 ATS in their last 11 showings, while the under is 8-3 during that stretch.

What’s at Stake?

The Timberwolves are 7.5 games behind the No. 8 seed which means their playoff hopes are gone. On the other side, the Rockets are the No. 3 seed in the West just one game ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers, so there is a lot on the table for the hosts on this one.

The Spot

Minnesota is coming off a 120-100 defeat at the Utah Jazz this past Friday. After the clash at Toyota Center, the Timberwolves are coming home to welcome the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night. Houston is coming off a 108-102 home victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday, and after the matchup with Minnesota, the Rockets will visit the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.

The Matchup

In their previous meeting with the Rockets, the Timberwolves overcame James Harden’s 42 points to beat the Rockets by ten points. They shot excellent 54.4% from the field while nailing ten triples out of 20 attempts from deep and making 31 assists. However, Jeff Teague won’t play tonight, and he led the T-Wolves with 27 points and 12 assists. Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, and he will be a key guy for Minnesota on Sunday.

The Rockets will have to find the way to beat the Timberwolves without their best player, and the last time when Harden has been sidelined, the Rockets have defeated the Warriors on the road. Chris Paul will drive the Rockets’ offense, and CP3 is averaging 13.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per contest in his last nine outings. Eric Gordon will have to step up and make some shots, while he’s tallying 20.2 points per game on 47.3% shooting from the field over his previous five outings.

Houston’s defense will be a key factor tonight, and the Rockets have improved defensively after some poor displays throughout the season. They are allowing 108.2 points per 100 possessions over their last 15 games (8th in the league) including 47.3 points in the paint (14th in the league). The Rockets’ offensive rating is the second-best in the league this season with 114.6 points per 100 possessions, although Houston is making just 44.7% of its field goals (26th in the league). The Rockets are taking 45.3 attempts from deep per 100 possessions which are the most in the NBA by far while hitting 34.7% of those shots (22nd in the league).

On the other side, the Timberwolves’ defensive rating is the worst in the league over the last 15 games, as they are surrendering 117.6 points per 100 possessions. Also, the Timberwolves are allowing their opponents to make 37.6% of their 3-pointers which is another worst record in the league. On the other side of the ball, the T-Wolves are scoring 111.9 points per 100 possessions this season (12th in the league) on 45.6% shooting from the field (17th) and 34.9% from downtown (19th).

The Bets

Although James Harden could miss this game, I’m backing the Rockets to beat the Timberwolves and cover the spread along the way. Both teams have been struggling to cover lately, especially the visitors, while the Rockets are 8-3 straight up and 7-4 ATS in their last 11 meetings with Minnesota. Also, the Rockets are 5-0 straight up and 4-1 ATS in their previous five home encounters with the Timberwolves who are winless at Toyota Center in 14 consecutive H2H matchups.

When it comes to the totals, the betting trends collide, while four of the last five H2H duels were finished in the over. Considering the Timberwolves’ defensive effort, the Rockets will put some serious number on the scoreboard, but I’m not sure the visitors will be able to do the same. Also, the Rockets prefer to play at a slow pace, so I’m backing the under.

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