Williams integrating in with Rockets, who host T-Wolves

HOUSTON — Newly acquired Rockets guard Lou Williams readily admitted to being surprised by his productivity in his debut with Houston on Thursday night in New Orleans, an individual performance that fueled a blowout victory and only bolstered conversation that the Rockets are legitimate contenders in the West.

Williams made seven 3-pointers and poured in 27 points in the Rockets’ 129-99 win over the Pelicans, doing so without the benefit of a practice or even a shootaround with his new team. He took to the floor after observing a few set plays on an iPad and did what came natural after that: he shot and he scored.

What comes next for the Rockets (41-18) beyond their hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves (23-35) on Saturday night at Toyota Center is the process of integrating Williams into their team dynamic. Houston produced the second most efficient offense in the league prior to trading with the Los Angeles Lakers and receiving a frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year honors. By adding Williams to their potent mix, the Rockets aim to overwhelm every remaining opponent.

“You’ve got to be able to score the basketball,” Rockets All-Star guard James Harden said.

“I call him the professional scorer,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said of Williams. “That dude, he can score. I’ve been watching him his whole career and he’s a tough person to guard, to stop.”

Williams was averaging career highs in scoring (18.6 points), effective field goal percentage (52.7) and PER (24.1) toiling with the lottery-bound Lakers. In joining Houston, he leapt up the standings and claimed a role with a playoff-bound team.

“It means a lot at this stage of my career, being in the latter stages of my career and having an opportunity to compete at a high level,” Williams said. “Being with a group of guys that have experienced some success already this year and to be added to that means a lot to me.”

Given the volatility at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the Timberwolves began what they hope to be a charge into postseason contention with a 97-84 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, a victory that left Minnesota three games behind the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot.

That Minnesota, ranked in the bottom third of the league defensively, opened the stretch run with a solid defensive performance served as a promising start.

“To win consistently we have to improve our defense,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We know that and we’ve got to work at it every day. We know that’s key for us and we’ll go as far as our defense is going to take us.”

If the Timberwolves are going to strike they’d better hurry. They open a four-game road trip in Houston, a stretch that includes games at Utah and San Antonio. Of their final 24 games, the Timberwolves will play 16 on the road.

Minnesota bypassed the Mavericks in the standings with the win and is tied for 12th in the West.

“That’s what motivated us,” said Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins, who scored 27 points and tied a franchise record with his 16th consecutive 20-plus point game. “They were in a position we wanted to be in.”