Harden's year has been remarkable as he's posted averages of 30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three. It's the first time a LeBron James-led team has dropped the opening game of the first round of the playoffs. Led by Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, this isn't exactly an easy draw for the Rockets. Houston dropped two of three to close the season, falling 96-83 on the road in a meaningless game to Sacramento Wednesday. They are the overwhelming favorites going into the first round of the playoffs.
James Harden delivered a virtuoso performance, aided significantly by a Clint Capela double-double, and the Houston Rockets survived Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series, earning a 104-101 victory over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. The Rockets had the NBA's best regular season record at 65-17 and won all four meetings with the Wolves handily.
Jeff Teague ended Minnesota's scoring drought with two free throws after the timeout and added a 3-point play after a basket by Harden.
That's when Harden, who had seven points and three assists in the first quarter, came alive. At no point did Butler take over the game, finishing with 13 points.
The Rockets opponent, the Minnesota Timberwolves, clinched their first playoff birth in 14 years by beating the Denver Nuggets in the regular season finale. The four-time All-Star is healthy and ready to go and will be an offensive factor for Minnesota after averaging 22.2 points per game this season. Minnesota is 24 in rebounding with 42 boards a night and 18 in assists by dishing out 22.7 dimes per contest. Butler suffered a torn meniscus against the Rockets February 23: he underwent surgery on the 25 and returned April 6 against the Lakers.
Houston fell to Sacramento in a game that meant nothing to either side as the Kings were headed to the lottery while the Rockets had long locked up the top seed in the playoffs and home court advantage throughout.
There's really no "key to the game" against a team like the Rockets. Capela had 20 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, but was limited in the second half and added just four more points and two rebounds.