MEXICO CITY (AP) — Feeling better after missing his first game of the season because of a flu-like virus, Dwight Howard promised to put on a show for his Mexican fans. And he delivered.
Howard, who missed Saturday*s game against the Golden State Warriors, had 22 points and 10 rebounds as he fed off the 18,996 fans at Arena Ciudad de Mexico for the first regular-season game played south of the border since 1997.
"It*s a big honor to play in Mexico. We had an amazing time even though it was a super short trip. The last time we lost so I wanted to come back with a better effort," Howard said. "I*ve always wanted to come to Mexico. The fans were great. They were standing and cheering from warm-ups until the end…I wish I could play all of our games here in Mexico".
James Harden led the Rockets with 23 points and a team-high 10 assists, but was only 8 of 23 from the field.
Trevor Ariza added 19 points and Kostas Papanikolau scored a career-high 14 for the Rockets (7-1), who tied Memphis for the best record in the Western Conference.
"We want to be the best at the end of the year," Howard said. "The West is a tough Conference, but if we play hard, we can beat anybody. We want to hold the trophy at the end of the year. That*s what we talk about every day."
With Ricky Rubio sidelined indefinitely after spraining his left ankle during Friday*s loss to the Orlando Magic, the Wolves lost their third straight game.
Corey Brewer scored 18 points and rookie Andrew Wiggins added 15 for Minnesota.
The Rockets played without starting point guard Patrick Beverley and couldn’t pull away until the third quarter.
"In the first half it was tough. We couldn*t get any stops," Harden said. "In the third quarter we locked down and made a run to seal the game then."
The teams played without incident nearly a year after a game between the San Antonio Spurs and Timberwolves was canceled because a short circuit in a generator room sent smoke and fumes inside the Mexico City Arena during warmups.
Timberwolves: After hitting 46.2 percent from the field in their first three games, Minnesota shot under 45 percent (44.4) from the field for the fifth straight night. … The Wolves turned the ball over 13 times.
Rockets: After going 0 for 6 from beyond the arc in the loss against the Warriors, Ariza nailed three 3-pointers. … The Rockets defense, which held opponents under 100 points in their first seven games of the season, allowed more than 100 for the first time.
Timberwolves: At New Orleans on Friday.
Rockets: Hosts Philadelphia on Friday.
Houston played in Mexico City for the sixth time in their history. The Rockets played the first ever NBA game south of the border in the 1992 preseason. Also, Houston played in the first regular season in Mexico when they defeated Dallas 108-106 in 1997. Their overall record in Mexican soil is now 4-2.