Rockets, Wolves set for high-stakes shootout

Rockets, Wolves set for high-stakes shootout?

Sunday’s 130-110 victory over the Lakers kept the Rockets in the Western Conference’s jumbled playoff picture. Tonight, survival should be even harder by which to come.

Visiting Houston clashes with upstart Minnesota at 8 p.m. ET on the third-to-last night of the NBA season. According to oddsmakers at online sports book Bovada.lv, J.B. Bickerstaff’s team is a 3.5-point favorite. The over/under total sits at 215 points.

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Still within one game of Utah for the No. 8 seed, the Rockets (39-41) rode James Harden’s gargantuan fourth quarter to a vital home win about 24 hours ago. The All-Star shooting guard racked up 20 points in the final 12 minutes and helped Houston from back-to-back losses against Phoenix and Dallas last week.

Those same Mavericks, who currently occupy the seventh spot out West, could clinch a postseason berth by defeating the Jazz this evening. Yet Bickerstaff’s troops will have enough to worry about without monitoring the out-of-town results. The Timberwolves (28-52) went 3-0 on their recent West Coast road trip, which commenced with a 124-117 overtime triumph against Golden State on Tuesday. Over the weekend, the squad handed Portland a loss in the waning seconds.

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If ever H-Town needed a heroic effort from Dwight Howard, it’s now. Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns abused the Rockets for 32 points in March’s meeting between the two franchises, and he paces all rookies with 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest. Andrew Wiggins loves facing Houston, too, as he has shot 55.1 percent in the past four battles.

Even in a must-win scenario, the Rockets’ lackadaisical defense invites derision. We’re certain that they’ll topple the Wolves for the 11th time in 12 matchups, but by a wide margin? Just plan on a flurry of baskets all the way around.

MONDAY NBA FREE PICK: ROCKETS/TIMBERWOLVES OVER 215 POINTS

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