James Harden too much for Wolves in Game 1

James Harden

The Rockets opponent, the Minnesota Timberwolves, clinched their first playoff birth in 14 years by beating the Denver Nuggets in the regular season finale.

That gives Jimmy Butler - who was inactive for one game vs. Houston and was hurt during another - more time to rest and recover after his late-season comeback.

Minnesota scored four straight points to get within 3 with about 30 seconds left.

The Rockets had managed just six points in the quarter when Gerald Green made a basket with to cut the lead to 1 with about five minutes left in the third. Winning Game 1 would shift the narrative in the series and put the pressure on Houston. James Harden was simply unstoppable.

The likely 2017-18 Most Valuable Player torched Minnesota down the stretch. When KAT received the ball in the post against the Rockets, he averaged 1.34 points per possession - and that's not necessarily just against Harden.

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The Wolves scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 56-54 lead. The Rockets' young big man tallied 20 points and 10 rebounds over the first 24 minutes. The Wolves are 37-22 with Butler this year and 10-13 without him.

If you think the Timberwolves are going to get swept by the Houston Rockets, think again. After a strong first quarter, Andrew Wiggins struggled in the second half. Harden, who also had a steal in that span, capped the run with a 3-pointer that prompted Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout.

It's tough to see Houston shooting as poorly as it did Sunday at any points through the remainder of the series, and the Wolves still couldn't take advantage.

While the Wolves may feel a desire to reflect on their accomplishment, the real work begins Sunday night, when they head south to face the team with the best record in the National Basketball Association, the Houston Rockets.

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