sports 3 days ago

Rockets rout Timberwolves to snap Minnesota's home winning streak

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. — Jace Frederick Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Feb. 14--If Tuesday night was an NBA playoff preview, a potential second-round matchup between Houston and Minnesota would figure to be short-lived.

The Rockets steamrolled the Wolves 126-108 at Target Center, snapping Minnesota's 13-game home winning streak.

Tuesday provided Minnesota with an important measuring-stick game nearly three-quarters of the way through the season. Riding the wave of their Target Center dominance, this was a chance for the Wolves to prove they could compete with the best the Western Conference had to offer.

That didn't happen. Houston outclassed Minnesota, again showing the massive gap between the top two in the West -- Houston and Golden State -- and the rest of the conference.

"When you're playing a team like that, you have to come in with an edge," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said.

The Wolves didn't. They played well for one quarter -- the first -- before Houston started to do what Houston does, unloading a barrage of 3-pointers on Minnesota's head.

Houston went 22 for 47 from beyond the arc, while the Wolves, who have struggled from deep all season, went 6 for 23. That alone is a difference of 48 points.

That's the math problem the Wolves (35-25) have had all season at a time when the 3-point shot is shaping the game. Too often in matchups against Houston or Golden State, it feels like the Wolves bring a pillow to a bar fight.

"If they're hitting threes and we come back with twos, they get a one-point advantage," Karl-Anthony Towns said. "When they've got it rolling like that, it's very tough to stop."

That doesn't give the Wolves much hope as they try to climb the Western Conference ladder. But as Thibodeau noted, Minnesota can score with anyone. Towns tallied 35 points and 12 rebounds, and Jeff Teague scored 25 in one of his best showings to date. The Wolves have a top-five offense but won't be able to beat Houston if the Rockets post 126 points a game.

The way Minnesota defends Houston has to change. Minnesota pulled to within 95-91 with less than eight minutes to play, only to have the Rockets reel off four consecutive 3-pointers over the next two minutes to extend its lead to 107-91.

Game, set, match.

Ryan Anderson went 6 for 10 from deep, and while many of those were missiles fired from Mars, Minnesota never adjusted, refusing to extend its defense to truly contest the hot shooter.

"They have the ability to make even when they're challenged well, but you have to keep doing it and then wear on them," Thibodeau said. "If you close short or you've got one guy not doing what he's supposed to be doing, it's going to be bad for everyone."

James Harden had 34 points, 12 assists and six rebounds for Houston.

If the teams started a seven-game series tomorrow, the Wolves would likely get swept.

"We always knew we had some work to do," Towns said. "We're not a finished product yet. We put ourselves in a good position for the playoffs, and when we go into the playoffs, that's when we have to be at our best and that's when we have to be a final product. So we've got time, we've got a lot of time to go back to the chalkboard, write some new plans up and get better all around."

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