The Houston Rockets did not fold in the face of the Golden State Warriors' presumed dynasty. With a trade for Chris Paul last summer and the addition of additional veterans, the Rockets went all in behind MVP candidate James Harden.
And at the conclusion of the regular season, the Rockets look smart for doing so. While the Warriors have dealt with the hangover of three straight trips to The Finals, the Rockets have been the best team in the league, winning a franchise-record 65 games with a potent offense and an improved defense.
A meeting with the champs in the conference finals might seem inevitable, but the Rockets won't have an easy path through the first two rounds. In fact, their first round opponent is a team that was in fourth place in the tough Western Conference before losing its best player for six weeks.
Jimmy Butler is back and the Minnesota Timberwolves are back in the postseason after they put an end to the second longest playoff drought in NBA history with an overtime victory in Game 82.
This is the only first round series between two top-five offenses, but it's a contrast in styles, the team that took the most 3-pointers vs. the team that took the fewest.
Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 1-8 series in the West, with links to let you dive in and explore more. Game 1 is Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.
Houston Rockets (65-17)
Pace: 99.7 (14)
OffRtg: 112.2 (2)
DefRtg: 103.8 (6)
NetRtg: +8.5 (1)
Rockets team notes:
- One of four teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
- Set an NBA record with 1,256 3-pointers (breaking the mark they set last season). Were the first team in NBA history to take more than half of their shots from 3-point range. Their ratio of 3-point attempts to mid-range shots (6.2) was more than three times the league average (1.8).
- Only team that had an effective field goal percentage of 50 percent or better on pull-up jumpers.
- Ranked 30th in ball movement (295 passes per 24 minutes of possession) and 29th in player movement (9.8 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession).
- Allowed 19.3 points per game in transition. Only the Wolves and Phoenix Suns allowed more.
- Allowed their opponents to take 34 percent of their shots in the restricted area, the second highest opponent rate in the league.
- Had the league's best winning percentage after leading by double-digits (they were 53-5) and its second best winning percentage after trailing by double-digits (they were 12-14). They led by 15 or more points for 833 total minutes, 251 more minutes than any other team.
Rockets individual notes:
- Ryan Anderson had an effective field goal percentage of 61 percent on the road and 51 percent at home. That was the second biggest road vs. home difference in effective field goal percentage among 213 players with at least 200 field goal attempts both at home and on the road.
- Trevor Ariza took 94 percent of his shots from the restricted area (23 percent) or 3-point range (71 percent). That was the highest rate among 180 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts. Eric Gordon had the fourth highest rate (89 percent).
- Clint Capela had an effective field goal percentage of 65.2 percent, the best mark among players with at least 500 field goal attempts.
- Capela ranked second in the league with 5.2 points per game as a roll man.
- Capela defended 6.8 shots at the rim per game, most in the league.
- Eric Gordon led the league in total plus-minus, with the Rockets having outscored their opponents by 589 points with him on the floor.
- James Harden led the league in usage rate, using 36 percent of the Rockets' possessions (via field goal attempts, turnovers and trips to the line) while he was on the floor.
- Harden led the league in scoring at 30.4 points per game. He was the only player with multiple 50-point games this season (he has four), and the 60 points he scored against Orlando on Jan. 30 were an NBA season high.
- Harden led the league in both free throws (made and attempted) and 3-pointers (made and attempted). It was the fourth straight season in which he had at least 600 made free throws and 200 made threes, something that has been done only two other times in NBA history (Gilbert Arenas in 2006-07 and Russell Westbrook last season). Harden made 50 threes in the last four seconds of the shot clock, more than twice as many as any other player.
- Harden averaged a league-high 10 isolations per game and scored 1.22 points per possession on isolations, the highest rate, by a wide margin, among 31 players who averaged at least two isolation possessions per game. Chris Paul ranked fourth with 5.1 isolations per game and was the second most efficient isolation scorer at 1.10 points per possession.
- Joe Johnson shot 28 percent from 3-point range, down from 41 percent last season. That was the second biggest drop in 3-point percentage among 183 players who attempted at least 100 threes each season. He shot 28 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the second worst mark among players who attempted at least 100.
- The Rockets scored 116.6 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the floor. That was the second highest on-court OffRtg among players who have averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games.
- P.J. Tucker led the league with 83 corner 3-pointers. He took 66 percent of his threes from the corners. That was the highest rate by a wide margin (next was E'Twaun Moore at 42 percent) among 150 players who attempted at least 200 total threes. Ariza ranked second with 81 corner threes and has ranked first or second in corner threes in each of the last five seasons.
Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35)
Pace: 98.3 (22)
OffRtg: 110.8 (4)
DefRtg: 108.4 (23)
NetRtg: +2.4 (9)
Wolves team notes:
- Were the league's second most improved team in regard to wins (+16), its third most improved team in regard to offensive efficiency (+2.7 points per 100 possessions) and its fourth most improved team in regard to point differential per 100 possessions (+3.4).
- Ranked 27th in ball movement (319 passes per 24 minutes of possession) and 30th in player movement (9.8 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession).
- Took just 26 percent of their shots from 3-point range, the lowest rate in the league.
- Allowed 20.1 points per game in transition. Only the Phoenix Suns (20.7) allowed more.
- Had an aggregate bench NetRtg of minus-3.4, the second worst mark among playoff teams.
- Though Jimmy Butler missed six weeks after the All-Star break, the starting lineup played more minutes (1,131) than any other lineup in the league. Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson all played in all 82 games and ranked in the top 15 in total minutes played.
- Lineup with Tyus Jones in place of Jeff Teague outscored opponents by 23.4 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 48 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together.
Wolves individual notes:
- Nemanja Bjelica shot 42 percent from 3-point range, up from 32 percent last season. That was the second biggest jump in 3-point percentage among 183 players who attempted at least 100 threes each season.
- Jimmy Butler was one of two players who averaged at least 20 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals per game.
- Butler shot 54 percent on non-restricted-area paint shots, the best mark among players who attempted at least 100.
- Jamal Crawford took only seven percent of his shots in the restricted area, the third lowest rate among 180 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts (higher than only those of Dirk Nowitzki and Troy Daniels).
- The Wolves allowed 112.9 points per 100 possessions with Crawford on the floor. That was the fifth highest on-court DefRtg among players (and the highest among players on playoff teams) who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games.
- Gorgui Dieng shot 50 percent from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line), the fifth best mark among players who attempted at least 100 mid-range shots. He took 2.7 times as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers, the fourth highest rate among 207 players who took at least 200 total shots from outside the paint.
- Taj Gibson shot 63 percent on post-ups, the best mark among players with at least 100 post-up field goal attempts.
- Tyus Jones had an assist-turnover ratio of 3.93, the third best mark among players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games.
- Karl-Anthony Towns had an effective field goal percentage of 61.5 percent in the last four seconds of the shot clock, the best mark among players who have taken at least 50 shots in the last four seconds.
- Andrew Wiggins had an effective field goal percentage of 33.6 percent on pull-up jumpers, the worst mark among players who attempted at least five per game.
Regular season matchup
Season series: Rockets won 4-0
Jan. 18 @ Houston - Rockets 116, Wolves 98
Feb. 13 @ Minnesota - Rockets 126, Wolves 108
Feb. 23 @ Houston - Rockets 120, Wolves 102
Mar. 18 @ Minnesota - Rockets 129, Wolves 120
- Trevor Ariza missed the first two games and Eric Gordon missed the third one. Jimmy Butler missed the fourth meeting.
- The 129.8 points per 100 possessions that the Rockets scored were the most for any team in any season series vs. an opponent in its own conference. The only higher mark in inter-conference play belonged to Minnesota's 130.1 vs. Cleveland.
- The total point differential (63 points) was the second biggest point differential in any series between playoff teams this season. (The biggest was Houston (plus-70) over Utah.) Only the March 18 meeting was within five points in the last five minutes, and that was just for one possession.
- The Rockets (69-for-159) made twice as many 3-pointers as the Wolves (34-for-93). They also outscored the Wolves by 5.5 points per game at the free throw line.
- The Rockets committed just 10.3 turnovers per 100 possessions, their lowest rate against any opponent. They also grabbed 26.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, their highest rate against any opponent. The teams combined to average 28.8 second chance points per game.
- Jimmy Butler was the primary defender on James Harden, and Harden shot a lot less than he usually does on those possessions, but the Rockets scored much efficiently (128 points on 94 possessions) than their average.
- P.J. Tucker (56 possessions) and Harden (50 possessions) shared the Butler assignment pretty evenly. The Rockets' defense did much better when Tucker or Luc Mbah a Moute were defending Butler than when Harden was.
- The Wolves were just a minus-6 in 139 minutes with Karl-Anthony Towns on the floor, but were outscored by 57 points in just 53 minutes with Towns off the floor. The Wolves' defense did well (20 points allowed on 23 possessions) when Taj Gibson defended Harden.
- Clint Capela (defended mostly by Towns) shot 30-for-38. His effective field goal percentage of 78.9 percent was the second highest mark among players who attempted at least 25 shots against the Wolves this season. Ryan Anderson had the sixth highest mark (67.7 percent).