For the first 24 minutes of game action, the country of Mexico was treated to an entertaining, back-and-forth NBA Global Games affair.
Then the red-hot Rockets remembered they were bumping heads with a young, building club that started a pair of 19-year-olds.
Houston (7-1) pulled away in the third quarter of another win to keep one of the NBA’s three-best records in the early going. Dwight Howard punished Nikola Pekovic for 22 points and 10 rebounds, James Harden continued Andrew Wiggins’ rookie initiation by scoring a game-high 23 points on him, and the Timberwolves (2-5) couldn’t keep up in the second half of their third straight loss.
For the second straight game, Zach LaVine — a teenage first-round pick like Wiggins — started for injured point guard Ricky Rubio, a main draw for Mexican ticket buyers who is back in Minneapolis waiting for a severely sprained ankle to quit swelling. Houston was without starting point guard Patrick Beverley, too, with Isaiah Canaan filling in.
LaVine, meanwhile, finished with eight points on 2-of-9 shooting, nine assists and three turnovers as his team floundered against one of the Western Conference’s top contenders.
1 big moment: After a Kevin Martin 3-pointer brought the Wolves within 66-60 at the third quarter’s 5:40 mark, Houston outscored them 18-10 the rest of the frame to take an 84-70 lead into the fourth. The Rockets led by double figures the rest of the way.
2 top performers: It wasn’t the 51-point shell-shocker that he produced against the Rockets the last time he saw them, but Corey Brewer came off the bench to score a season-high 18 points on perfect 7-for-7 shooting. Harden left briefly in the third quarter after landing awkwardly on his foot but finished with 23 points, 10 assists and three steals.
3 key stats: En route to a season high for points and field goals made, Houston made 13 of 28 3s, led by Kostas Papanikolaou with four on four attempts.
The Rockets set an NBA record for eight straight games to open the season with 10 or more 3s made; they came into the night leading the NBA in triples made and attempted, while the Wolves rank last in both categories.
On an off-night for Pekovic, who’s not nearly quick enough to keep up with Howard, Houston outscored Minnesota 54-40 in the paint. Pekovic finished with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting and 13 rebounds.
Slow starts doomed the Wolves in each half. They missed their first six shots in the first quarter and their first seven to open the third.
Said: "We’re excited to come here. It’s a great opportunity for us and the brand of the NBA, to spread it into Mexico City. The people of Mexico are extremely excited about their basketball. On a world scale, their national teams have done a great job. Their players are expanding and playing both in the NBA and over in Europe at high levels, so it’s an opportunity for them to see the greatest players in the world play." — Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders (after practice Tuesday in Mexico)
Seen: Actual basketball in Mexico City. Eleven months after a generator fire filled the arena with smoke and canceled last year’s Minnesota-San Antonio matchup in Mexico, 18,996 fans flocked to Mexico City Arena for the second regular-season NBA game played in the country (21st including preseason clashes). The atmosphere had a conventional feel, save for a different language coming from the stands and being played at 7,382 feet above sea level in Mexico’s capital city.
Next: The Wolves close out a season-high, six-game road trip Friday at New Orleans and Saturday at Dallas.