Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves Pick & Prediction JANUARY 5th 2024

The game within the game between the Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday highlighted the dilemma Rockets center Alperen Sengun presents opposing defenses.

In the early stages of the Rockets’ 112-101 victory, the Nets aggressively sent a second defender at Sengun when he attempted to post up, testing both his ability to pass out of the double team and his patience to deal with it.

Initially, there were moments of pause from Sengun, but eventually, the Rockets uncovered an adjustment that allowed him to thrive.

Sengun finished with 30 points — his seventh consecutive 20-point game — plus eight rebounds and four assists to lead the Rockets to their second win in a seven-game homestand that continues on Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Sengun is averaging 28.1 points and 5.1 assists over the past seven games, showcasing the scoring and passing talent that makes him an emerging star.

The Rockets have employed tactics to best maximize Sengun when opponents attempt to double him in the post, where he is particularly lethal.

Against the Nets, the Rockets used Sengun in the pick-and-roll to facilitate matchups that allowed him the space needed to dominate as a scorer.

Once Houston unlocked Sengun away from the basket, opportunities in the post were reclaimed.

“I think anytime you put a guy at the elbow or the nail it’s tougher to space guys out properly,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “It’s tough to double from there, especially a good passer with vision — he sees everything in front of him.

“So we like to move him around a lot but at the same time put him on the block. He’s so efficient down there and such a great passer. He does both. If we want to use him to get others shots we can do that but also space him to the spots that offer advantages for him.”

Despite a 117-106 home loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, their third defeat in five games, the Timberwolves maintained their spot atop the Western Conference.

However, Minnesota hasn’t been the same stifling unit that rolled to a 110-98 road victory over the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 23. The Timberwolves still pace the NBA in defensive rating at 108.7 points per 100 possessions, but in the five games since that win at Sacramento, they are 17th with a 116.4 defensive rating.

“We’ve got to get our desperation back, that’s first of all,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “We’ve got to play better. We haven’t played with a lot of pop and purpose since we went to Sacramento.

“We’ve kind of been maybe in second gear since then. This performance has been coming for a while in the sense that we haven’t been very sharp. There’s going to be lots of waves of adversity. We’ve got to fix it. We’ve got to get our physicality back, got to get our defense back. We’ve got to get our identity back, which is being more physical, being bigger.”

–Field Level Media

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