The Minnesota Timberwolves are trying to find any sense of traction this season and will have yet another chance to win back-to-back games for the first time when they play at home Saturday night.
Standing in Minnesota’s way is just the team on the hottest streak in the NBA: the Houston Rockets.
The Timberwolves (7-18) host Houston on Saturday night after the Rockets (20-7) won their ninth game in a row on Friday, beating the New Orleans Pelicans 122-100 in Houston.
“We came in today and had a different swagger about us,” Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns told the Minneapolis Star Tribune a day after the Timberwolves 99-94 comeback win in Chicago. “A different swagger that we have never had; an arrogance in a way that great teams have.”
Minnesota recovered from a 21-point deficit against the Bulls, the largest comeback in the NBA this season. The Timberwolves felt good about themselves and also had three days off before the Rockets come to town.
But it’s a Minnesota team that hasn’t won two games in a row all season. The Timberwolves hope something changed this time.
“I think, in Chicago, that’s the first time we played team basketball,” forward Gorgui Dieng said.
Minnesota can benefit from back-to-back practices as well, a rare occurrence rare in today’s NBA. The young Timberwolves need the practice as much as anyone as they continue to learn the ways of new coach Tom Thibodeau.
“For us, practicing hard and practicing well is critical,” Thibodeau said. “It is not punishment, but it is what we need to do to build habits. This is all about building habits and building a foundation.”
Tuesday’s comeback was made possible because of defense. It was the first time in 10 games that Minnesota had held a team below 100 points. Chicago scored 56 total points in the final three quarters.
Stopping the Rockets is a more daunting task.
The Rockets entered Friday second in the league in scoring with 122.8 points per game. That was before Houston bombarded New Orleans.
Houston hit 24 3-pointers in Friday’s win against the Pelicans. The total broke a mark the 2013 Rockets shared with the 2009 Orlando Magic. They shot 61 3-pointers in the win, breaking another record they had set earlier this season when they shot 50 in a game.
“It was one of those nights where it didn’t feel like we put up 60 3s,” said forward Ryan Anderson, who was 2 of 8 from 3. “They were in-motion shots, they were good shots.”
Eric Gordon was 7 of 12 on 3-point shots in scoring 29 points. James Harden was 6 of 12 from beyond the arc on the way to his sixth triple-double of the season with 29 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. Trevor Ariza added five 3s and scored 20 points.
“We can still be better,” Gordon said. “I wouldn’t doubt that before the season is over we’ll break that record (for 3-pointers made) again.
“I think it’ll happen again for sure. A lot of teams like to load up trying to not let us get layups and it forces us to shoot 3s. It’s like, ‘Why not?’ I think we’ll have that chance again.”
Harden also passed Hakeem Olajuwon with his 15th triple-double for Houston, the most in team history.
The Rockets have played twice while the Timberwolves rested and practiced. Houston also put up 132 points in a win on Wednesday over Sacramento, which scored just 98 points in the game.
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