A matchup with Western Conference-worst Minnesota is usually a good opportunity for any team to extend a winning streak. But the Timberwolves have hardly been pushovers lately, especially at home.
The Houston Rockets have a chance to extend their road winning streak to eight games for the first time in over 11 years Monday night, but they will have to get past the suddenly surging Timberwolves as the teams continue their season series.
Houston has won seven straight on the road since a 97-93 loss to league-best Boston on Jan. 2, holding opponents to 91.7 points per game during its run. A win over Minnesota (10-36) on Monday would give the Rockets eight straight victories on the road for the first time since winning their first eight road games of 1996-97.
Houston will be facing a Timberwolves team that has been a league doormat, but Minnesota has won four straight and five of six at home. That stretch includes a win over West-leading Phoenix on Jan. 23.
The Wolves also have won consecutive games and five of seven overall, showing improvement after a dismal start.
"We're growing, progressing, and showing a lot of character out there on the floor," Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said. "We should have some confidence now."
Defense is where the Wolves have improved most over the past five games, holding opponents to 85.6 points per contest and 40.4 percent shooting in that span.
Houston, meanwhile, has held three opponents under 90 points during its road winning streak, including a 91-83 victory over Milwaukee on Saturday.
Yao Ming had a subpar game on offense for the Rockets, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting, but Tracy McGrady finished with a game-high 33. It was McGrady's best showing since returning from a left knee injury about two weeks ago.
McGrady missed the Rockets' 113-82 win over the Wolves on Jan. 11 due to that injury, but he has topped 30 points in each of his last two games versus Minnesota.
"He makes good decisions down the stretch," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "He can really pass the ball and once he starts making jump shots ... he's really tough to guard."
Meanwhile, Wolves emerging star Al Jefferson has led his team's recent surge. He finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds in three quarters before sitting out the rest of the way in a 104-83 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
The 6-foot-11 center is averaging 25.9 points and 13.7 rebounds in his last nine games. Jefferson, though, was held to six points on 2-of-10 shooting in January's matchup with the Rockets.
Jefferson, averaging 21.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks overall, did not get an invitation to the All-Star game when the West's full roster was revealed Thursday night. He faced stiff competition for three backup forward spots, which went to Utah's Carlos Boozer, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and New Orleans' David West.
"I'll just use it as motivation and look forward to working hard and making it next year," Jefferson said.
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