In a battle between two Western Conference foes headed in opposite directions, the Houston Rockets will host the Minnesota Timberwolves. This will be the third and final meeting between the two teams.
They've split the season series to date.
Minnesota is currently 22-41 overall and 7-25 away from home. One of those road losses came against the Rockets on Dec. 26, when Houston escaped with an 87-84 victory.
Minnesota will look to re-discover their form after losing 26 of their past 32 games.
As for Houston, they're 35-30 overall and 21-9 at home. With that being said, the Rockets are just 16-22 against the Western Conference and lost their most recent game against the T-Wolves.
So who will take the grudge match?
Time: Friday, March 15 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: WFTC, CSN Houston and NBATV
Records: Minnesota Timberwolves (22-41, 7-25 road) at Houston Rockets (35-30, 21-9 home)
Betting Line: N/A as of March 15 at 8:36 p.m. ET
Minnesota Timberwolves Injury Report
Chase Budinger, MCL Sprain, Out
Andrei Kirilenko, Stained Left Calf, Out
Malcolm Lee, Hip and Knee Surgery, Out
Kevin Love, Broken Hand, Out
Nikola Pekovic, Strained Abdomen, Out
Brandon Roy, Knee Complications, Out
Houston Rockets Injury Report
Omer Asik, Mild Groin Strain, Probable
James Harden, Sore Right Foot, Probable
Key Storyline: Grudge Match
When two teams have split a season series, they're often looking for a way to decide a winner. Fortunately for the Rockets and Timberwolves, they are playing each other an odd number of times this season.
Thus far, they've split their two games.
On Dec. 26, the Rockets secured an 87-84 victory over the T-Wolves. James Harden led the Rockets with 30 points, while J.J. Barea dropped in 18 to lead Minnesota.
Currently injured star Kevin Love finished with seven points and 12 rebounds.
On Jan. 19, the Timberwolves exacted a measure of revenge by winning 92-79. Harden was held to 5-of-18 shooting and Andrei Kirilenko finished with 21 points and 11 boards.
Unfortunately, Kirilenko is injured and will not play against the Rockets.
With Minnesota depleted by injuries and Houston approaching the playoffs, we could see a more lopsided outcome. With that being said, the T-Wolves have proven resilient in the past as they've taken down the Rockets.
Who will win the grudge match?
Key Matchup: Jeremy Lin vs. Ricky Rubio
On March 12, Ricky Rubio posted his first career triple-double against the San Antonio Spurs. On March 13, Rubio finished with 21 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
Jeremy Lin is going to have his hands full.
If the Timberwolves are to win this game, Rubio will need to put on another outstanding performance. The Houston Rockets are as good as any at running up the score, and Lin will play a major role in doing just that.
The question is, can Rubio outproduce Lin and give his team a chance to win?
If Lin gets going, the Rockets' offense will follow him. James Harden may be the star, but Lin is often the catalyst of an offense that knows how to get hot and remain that way.
If Rubio can force Lin into turnovers and produce at a high level on his own, however, the Timberwolves will be in position to win.
X-Factor: Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves
One of the most intriguing rookies of the 2012-13 season has been Alexey Shved of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The 6'6" combo guard has struggled to adjust to the NBA pace at times, but he's been brilliant when comfortable.
If Shved can reach that comfort level during the upcoming game against the Houston Rockets, the T-Wolves have a legitimate chance at achieving victory.
Shved displayed his well-rounded abilities during Minnesota's recent upset of the San Antonio Spurs. Shved scored 16 points and dished out seven assists on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc.
That broke a three-game stretch in which Shved made just three of 24 field goals.
Unfortunately, Shved went cold again on March 13 against the Indiana Pacers. The Russian guard went 2-of-8 from the floor and neutralized his seven rebounds in the process.
If Shved can produce at a higher level against Houston, the Timberwolves may just walk away with an upset.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are the type of team that could give the Houston Rockets trouble. They work from the inside out, have an elite facilitator at point guard and are led by an elite perimeter defender.
Who will win?
Unfortunately, their starting power forward and center, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, are both injured. So is their dominant defensive presence, Andrei Kirilenko.
That's a heavy burden for point guard Ricky Rubio to carry.
The Rockets are an elite offensive team, averaging 106.8 points and 23.5 assists per game. This suggests that Minnesota will be brought into an offensive shootout against James Harden and company.
With all due respect to Houston's quality team, this will be decided by Minnesota's inability to keep up from an offensive perspective.
Houston Rockets 98, Minnesota Timberwolves 90