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Rockets Hit Rock Bottom In Minnesota

January 20, 2013 12:21 am EST

Cold shooting, too many turnovers doom Houston to 92-79 defeat

HOUSTON - The Rockets couldn’t buy a bucket. Nor could they hold onto the ball. As a result, the injury-ravaged Timberwolves were able to send Houston to a new low, knocking off the Rockets 92-79.

Indeed, Saturday night’s contest surely marked rock bottom for a Rockets team that has now lost seven games in a row. The gruesome details: Houston hit just 32 percent of its field goal attempts, including a ghastly 8-31 mark (25.8%) from beyond the arc. Making matters worse, the Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, continuing a season-long trend that has seen the club spend the vast majority of the season ranked dead last in the league in turnover rate.

And even though Houston absolutely dominated the offensive glass, corralling nearly 40 percent of its misses, the Rockets still failed to take advantage of a Minnesota team missing a slew of key players such as Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. Instead, the Rockets were undone by the likes of Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale, two players signed to 10-day contracts earlier in the day, who combined to score the Wolves' first 23 points of the fourth quarter as Minnesota outscored Houston 29-20 in the deciding frame.

It was, quite simply, the new nadir for a Rockets team that is experiencing a sudden and rather stunning fall from grace after spending so much of December and early January running roughshod over its competition. Fatigue is surely part of the reason; Houston was, after all, playing its fourth game in five nights and eighth contest overall over the course of the past 12 days. That reality could certainly help explain the recent ice cold shooting of players like James Harden (5-18) and the fact that the Rockets, so reliant on their potent transition attack, simply haven’t been imposing their punishing pace on opponents the same way they were prior to the start of their seven-game slide.

Exhaustion, however, can only account for so much. At times it has felt as if Houston has trailed for the entirety of this slump and once more they spent the vast majority of their night chasing the Timberwolves from behind. In fact, the Rockets only had one lead the entire game, 31-30 at the midway point of the second quarter, and Minnesota immediately responded with a 14-2 run that doomed Houston to a double-digit deficit for the tenth consecutive contest.

Desperate to discover something, anything to provide a spark, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale shook up his opening lineup to begin the third quarter. Patrick Beverley, Carlos Delfino and Marcus Morris opened the period in place of Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson respectively, but even that drastic overhaul of the rotation did little to lift Houston from its offensive slumber. The Timberwolves began the half with another big run, this time a 12-4 spurt, putting the Rockets in their deepest hole yet.

Houston did eventually rally, closing the third quarter with a 10-2 run of its own to pull within four heading into the final frame. And with the way Delfino was draining 3s and Greg Smith was doing damage on the inside, it very much appeared as if the Rockets were well in position to steal the game and put an end to their slide with just a single, solitary quality quarter of basketball.

That, too, however, proved beyond their reach on this occasion. Ricky Rubio repeatedly found Johnson and Gelabale with his precision passes, while Houston’s offense sputtered and grew stagnant once again. After Patrick Patterson’s 3-pointer brought the Rockets within seven at the 4:56 mark, Houston closed the game by going 1-9 from the field and just 2-4 from the free throw line, allowing Minnesota to comfortably cruise home to victory while the Rockets were once more left searching for answers to the tough questions that grow more imposing by the day.

“Right now we’re not playing well – that’s the bottom line,” said McHale. “We’re really in a funk and we’re going to have to work our way out of it – that’s all there is to it. We’re not getting any easy baskets anymore. We were leading the league in scoring and now we’re not running hard. We’re just so out of character right now. Then we have turnovers, and when guys are open we’re not hitting them. We’re just really in a funk right now. We’ve got to get ourselves out of it and that’s the bottom line. And we will.”

Added Harden, who finished with fewer than 20 points for the second straight game after having reached that plateau 22 consecutive times: “It’s a variety of things. I'm not playing to the best of my ability. I'm not making shots, not making plays and I think we're just kind of in a fog right now and we've got to find some way to get out of this fog. We've been on the road a lot this month so that's probably one of the reasons but we've got to figure out a way to get out of this fog.

“A lot of it falls on me; I've got to do a better job of making shots and making plays. It's as simple as that.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

Right now we’re not playing well – that’s the bottom line. We’re really in a funk and we’re going to have to work our way out of it – that’s all there is to it. We’re not getting any easy baskets anymore. We were leading the league in scoring and now we’re not running hard. We’re just so out of character right now. Then we have turnovers, and when guys are open we’re not hitting them and we take the extra dribble. We’re just really in a funk right now. We’ve got to get ourselves out of it and that’s the bottom line. And we will.

This is where we’re at. We can’t worry about how we got here. We’ve just got to get out of here.

(what went into the lineup change at the start of the third quarter?)

I just wanted to try to get a spark just by trying something different.

Right now we’re not firing on all cylinders at all and we’re just struggling. We’ve got to work our way through it. It’s not going to get better by itself, we’ve just got to push through it. We haven’t had much practice time together and right now we’re not playing with any kind of confidence. We’re not attacking and when we are attacking we’re not making the right plays.

(happy with the shots they were taking?)

If we get the ball going from side to side, or we get 3s on the break where they’re wide open – we take those. What I don’t want is when the ball is sitting on the strong side and then we take a 3 – those are the ones that kill you.

(surprised at where they got their offense from in the fourth quarter?)

Well Gelebale and Johnson just were active, they rolled hard and we didn’t do anything to stop anything.

CHANDLER PARSONS

"Every time you lose it should hurt. I can't speak for everybody but losing is the worst. There is nothing worse than that. You've got to hate losing more than you love winning and I just don't feel that around here right now."

Were you surprised by the Wolves offense in 4th?

"Yeah, they made plays, all those guys. They made plays."

Did the missed shots on offense translate to the defensive end?

"It shouldn't. In the beginning of the season our defense was our best offense and when we got stops we were able to get out in transition and move the ball and play unselfish and cut, we're not getting stops right now so we can't do what we do best."

JEREMY LIN

Is losing streak impacting things

"I think everyone is trying to do the right thing but I just think right now, we're just definitely trying to do the right thing but it's not working for us right now. Defenses are reading our stuff and we're not getting the stops and rebounds we need to get.

Everyone played really hard, everybody who stepped on the floor tonight played really hard."

What is the feeling of the shots within offense?

"I'm happy with most of them. What team has not taken a bad shot? I think those shots are great shots, they just didn't fall."

JAMES HARDEN

Where has it gone so wrong?

"It’s a variety of things. I'm not playing to the best of my ability. I'm not making shots, not making plays and I think we're just kind of in a fog right now and we've got to find some way to get out of this fog. We've been on the road a lot this month so that's probably one of the reasons but we've got to figure out a way to get out of this fog."

"Has the team lost faith?"

"I don't think we've lost faith; I think we're just kind of in a fog, in a no man's land. We're not making plays, not making shots.  We're not making shots and that's affecting us on the defensive end as well."

Are guys hanging heads?

"A little bit, a little bit of that. Like I said, it comes to the not making shots and defensively we're not there as well. It's a combination of those things."

How does the team turn it around?

"Just stick with it, the guys have just got to keep coming to the gym and have confidence in their shots when you get the opportunity and defensively we've just got to lock in."

How much of the offense falls on you?

"A lot of it falls on me; I've got to do a better job of making shots and making plays. It's as simple as that."

TIMBERWOLVES ACTING HEAD COACH TERRY PORTER

Opening statement...

"Just a great game by those guys for all 48 minutes. Really did a great job of just staying in there. They made a good run at us but I can't say enough about those guys really just continuing and competing throughout the whole game. They made a run at us and they just didn't ever stop. Obviously Chris (Johnson) and Gelabale stepped up big for us especially in the fourth quarter. They came out with big plays. Chris, they only had him down for one block but I thought he had more than one. He was just changing balls at the rim and really did a good job.  I thought our guys who had to guard the tough James Harden, we did a good job of really trying to get into him and not giving him any place. Whenever he got to the basket we had somebody there try to make him change but he is just a great finisher. But all and all I just can't say enough about those guys. Never quitting no matter what type of adversity they face they continue to believe in each other and continue to play together and play the right way. I'm just so proud of what they have done. It's a great win for us."

On if he forbid all the guys from scoring in the fourth quarter expect Johnson and Gelabale...

"Yeah I did (laughs). No, it just happened that way. Obviously Chris did a good job of setting up a couple screens and rolling down. Ricky and the guards did a good job of finding him at the basket. Also, Gelabale was open in the corner and we found him a couple times. All and all I thought the activity was really great in regards to our offense and having great patience and making them defend us. It was just a solid effort throughout the whole game."

On if he has ever seen guys sign a 10-day contract and have such a big impact on the game...

"I haven't seen it but I'm sure it's been done. I would have to go back and look but I don't recall in my experience getting two guys like that just having them step in and putting in the type of work for us tonight at both ends of the floor, not just the offensive end but both of them had tough assignments at the other end. Chris obviously doing a great job of protecting the rim and Gelable doing a great job of guarding Harden. It was a total great job by those guys. It was great to see."

On what they did different defensively today than the past few games...

"We really didn't do that much. We played maybe a little bit more zone. I wouldn't say a lot of that. We trapped, we did some trapping a bit but all and all again, our opponents got better shots, made shots and during the stretches of those games we missed a ton of opportunities. Wide open opportunities and that's the difference in the game. When you talk about a game like this it's who makes shots and who makes stops and we were able to do that. We were able to get easy baskets when we needed them but we were also able to do a good job defensively. One shot and done, so that was great to see. "

Chris Johnson

On if that is how he drew up the fourth quarter...

"I don't think I drew it up that way. Like I told everybody else the guards just put me in the right position. At times I really didn't know what to do offensively. I had to get more familiar with the offense. They just put me in the right spots to be successful tonight and just made good plays."

On what kind of confidence do you have after a game like tonight...

"Just try to stay even keel cause it might not be like that the next game. You just have to stay poised and just be ready to make an impact anytime."

On if he heard the crowd chanting MVP...

(Laughs) Yeah I heard it. I don't agree at all. It's just a great fan base and they showed great support tonight."

On whether they meant league or team MVP...

"I don't know. Probably just for tonight I guess."

On how much it helped that he was at training camp with the Wolves...

"I remember some things. Pretty simple with the bigs especially for myself to just roll to the basket. Ricky makes it really easy. He put the pass right on the dot. They definitely made it easy on me."

Andrei Kirilenko

On what they did well tonight...

"We didn't allow them to score a lot of transition points. Houston is second in the league scoring-wise. Getting the ball even after scoring and just return it right away. We stopped it. Points in the paint they have a lot of points off the penetration Harden and Lin they created those scoring situations inside and I think we did a pretty good job of building those walls right in front of them."

On Johnson and Gelabale's energy...

"That's why we got them. We needed help and they did such a great job especially for the first game. Chris is not a new guy, he has been with us before. He kind of knows the offense but it's still tough to come and play from the stretch. I think they did a tremendous job and brought us a win. We needed that win. We need to get back on track."

Rockets Notes

Tonight's loss is Houston's seventh consecutive defeat, six of those being road contests. Houston is now 1-10 on the road against Western Conference teams this season, with that lone win coming at Target Center on Dec. 26.

James Harden scored just 18 points on 5-of-18 shooting (0-of-6 from downtown). He came into tonight ranked 5th in the NBA in scoring with 26.0 ppg, having tallied 30+ points 12 times this season. After 22 straight games of 20+ points, Harden has now tallied 17 and 18 in his last two games.

After grabbing 17 rebounds in the first meeting with Minnesota this season, Omer Asik was limited to two points and five rebounds tonight (he did not play in the 4th quarter). Asik came into tonight ranked 3rd in the NBA in rebounding with 11.2 rpg. He has 10 games with 15+ rebounds this season. Asik also ranks 13th in the league with 17 double-doubles.

Houston's starting five combined for just 42 points on 12-of-47 (25.5%) shooting to Minnesota's 55 points on 18--of-40 (45.0%) from the floor.

Wolves Notes

Tonight's win is Minnesota's fourth in its last five meetings with Houston and snaps a five-game overall losing streak. The win also improves the Wolves to 11-6 at home; seven of Minnesota's next 10 contests are at Target Center.

Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale, both signed to 10-day contracts earlier in the day, combined for the Wolves' first 23 points of the fourth quarter as Minnesota outscored Houston 29-20 in the frame. Johnson scored 13 fourth-quarter points while Gelabale added 10. Johnson tallied 15 points for the game, a new career high.

Minnesota's defense limited Houston to a season-low-tying 79 points on a season-low 32.1% shooting. The 32.1% is the lowest by a Wolves opponent since Indiana shot 29.6% on 3/9/11; it is also the 12th lowest percentage by a Wolves opponent in franchise history. The Rockets came into tonight ranked 2nd in the NBA in points scored at 105.1 ppg and 7th in field goal percentage at 45.7%. Houston has been held under 90 points just five times with a season low of 79 (1/9/13 @ NO).

The Wolves shot 46.9% tonight, their 6th-best percentage of the season and best in 10 outings. Minnesota shot 53.1% in the first half (3-of-5 from downtown).

Andrei Kirilenko registered 21 points, 11 rebounds and three steals for his 7th double-double of the season (first in 16 games). Tonight is also his 6th 20-point game of the season. Including tonight, Kirilenko is averaging 14.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 steals in the last five games.

Coming off a season-high 21 points Thursday vs. Los Angeles, Luke Ridnour scored 16 points. Tonight is his 20th double-digit scoring game in his last 25 contests. Including tonight's performance, Ridnour is averaging 15.4 ppg, on 48.4% shooting, and 3.6 assists over the last five games.

Making his second start of the season, Ricky Rubio tallied seven points (one off his season high) and six assists. Rubio played a season-high 30 minutes tonight (previously 27; 1/17 vs. LAC). Tonight was his third straight game of 6+ assists.

The Wolves started their 12th different lineup of the season as Greg Stiemsma made his third start of the season.