Despite matching their longest winning streak of the season, the Houston Rockets weren’t entirely pleased with their performance against an inferior opponent.
They’ll aim for a more complete showing Monday night when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves, who hope to have Kevin Love back as they try to avoid a fourth straight loss.
Houston (34-17) has equaled its five-game run from Nov. 23-30, knocking off San Antonio, Dallas, Cleveland, Phoenix and Milwaukee. But Saturday’s 101-95 road victory over the league-worst Bucks wasn’t the dominating effort the Rockets would have preferred.
"We didn’t attack like we needed to the whole game," said Dwight Howard, who had 27 points and 13 rebounds for his 33rd double-double. "There were spurts when we attacked the basket, but there were times when we settled for the 3. We have to always be in attack mode."
The Rockets led by 15 with 1:20 left in the first half before Milwaukee pulled to within two less than five minutes into the third quarter. Houston again built a 14-point edge later in the third before letting the Bucks come as close as three points with less than a minute left in the game.
"We’re too up and down right now," said Jeremy Lin, who scored 18. "We go up 12 and then we are only up six. It would be nice for us to build leads and really dominate from start to finish."
Lin, who averages 13.5 points, has scored 18 three times during the win streak, while Howard is averaging 26.2 points – 7.4 better than his season average.
Houston is averaging 111.5 points in its last four contests while the Timberwolves (24-27) are yielding 107.0 per game during their skid.
The Rockets, who are seeking a sixth straight win for the first time since taking seven in a row from Jan. 13-23, 2012, claimed a 112-101 home victory over Minnesota on Nov. 23. Howard scored only 11 but Houston was 17 of 31 from 3-point range despite being without James Harden due to injury. Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverley were a combined 11 of 15 from deep.
Minnesota is in danger of dropping four in a row for the first time all season after being without Love for two of the last three contests. He missed Saturday’s 117-110 loss to Portland with a bruised left quadriceps and was out Wednesday at Oklahoma City due to a stiff neck, but will play against the Rockets.
Love is averaging 31.5 points and 15.5 rebounds in his last six contests and has scored 25 or more in five of his last six versus Houston after tallying 27 in November.
Even with Love back in the fold, the Timberwolves will still be without Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. Both are out indefinitely, with Martin suffering a broken left thumb in Friday’s loss at New Orleans, while Pekovic has missed seven straight contests with a bruised ankle and isn’t likely to return until after the All-Star break.
Love, Martin and Pekovic combine for nearly 60 percent of Minnesota’s 105.6 points per game.
Minnesota received some surprising individual efforts against Portland, getting a career-best 25 from Ricky Rubio and a season-high 19 from Chase Budinger, but couldn’t preserve what was a seven-point lead late in the third quarter.
"It doesn’t matter who’s out," coach Rick Adelman said. "The next guy steps up, that’s how you have to approach it. You can’t worry about who’s not playing, worry about who is playing, and make the best out of the situation."
Adelman will not be on the sideline for this game due to personal reasons, and assistant Terry Porter will run the team.