Preview: Wolves vs. Rockets
MINNEAPOLIS — In a season full of second-half collapses, perhaps not one sticks out more for the Minnesota Timberwolves than the 111-109 overtime home loss to the Houston Rockets in December.
Minnesota, which has 12 losses this season when leading by double-digits, led by 12 points with 2:19 left in the game. Then, Houston forwards Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza each hit two 3-pointers as the Rockets closed regulation on a 14-2 run.
James Harden scored 10 of his 28 points in overtime and Houston stayed near the top of the Western Conference while burying the Timberwolves further down the standings.
The two teams meet again in Minnesota on Wednesday.
The Rockets (31-9) are still riding high after beating the Charlotte Hornets 121-114 on Tuesday night in Houston. Harden scored 40 points with 15 rebounds and 10 assists to become just the third player since the 1985-86 season to record back-to-back games with a triple-double and 40 points, according to STATS, LLC.
“Most important thing is winning and it’s been a total turnaround from last year to this year,” Harden said after Tuesday’s game. “Winning and good things will come, individual stats.”
The Timberwolves (12-26) are still trying to find their way and keep from slipping in the second half of games. Minnesota saw a 21-point lead vanish at home against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday but never relinquished the lead and won 101-92 to snap a four-game losing streak.
The December game is still fresh in the minds of the Timberwolves.
“I mean, I’ve learned from that game,” Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns told the team’s website on Tuesday. “We’ve all learned. Just going to go there, go into tomorrow with a certain energy, a certain passion, a certain excitement and we have to go out there and execute. And again, everything goes back to our discipline. If we’re disciplined for four straight quarters, not many teams in this league can beat us.”
The Timberwolves seemingly had one of the top teams in the West on the ropes, before Houston finished strong.
The Rockets, as they did in December, head to Minnesota with a nine-game winning streak.
“I definitely didn’t know we’d be here,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said after Tuesday’s win. “The first 20 games, we thought we could be 11-9 and we’d be happy. So, we’re plus 19 on that one. I just like the way we’re playing. I like their energy and I think the defense is getting better.”
D’Antoni said guard Eric Gordon, who scored 20 points with six rebounds and four assists in the previous meeting, won’t travel with the team to Minnesota. Gordon is dealing with a toe injury.
The Timberwolves could also be without one of their top scorers in guard Zach LaVine.
LaVine left Monday’s game with a hip contusion and is listed as questionable. LaVine scored 24 points in the previous matchup with the Rockets and is 31st in the league in scoring at 20.4 points per game.
“It was a weird play that he got bumped on,” coach Tom Thibodeau told the team’s website after Tuesday’s practice. “But he’ll be OK.”
Tyus Jones entered Monday when LaVine left the game and scored seven points in 11 minutes. The little-used, second-year guard could see more playing time if LaVine is out.
“You’ve got to take advantage of your opportunity,” Jones said after Monday’s game. “It’s next guy up. Zach went down and there can’t be a fall off. If Coach calls, you’ve got to be ready to go in and pick up where Zach left off. Just trying to make sure I can do anything to help the team pull out a ‘W’ tonight.”