GameDay Blog: Wolves vs. Rockets - Dec. 26, 2012

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Final: The Wolves fall 87-84 tonight to the Rockets thanks to a pair of late drives by James Harden in the final minute. Alexey Shved missed his game-tying 3-point attempt, a highly-contested shot as time expired, that would have sent the game into overtime. Be sure to check back at for analysis, highlights, postgame interviews and photos throughout the night. Final: HOU 87, MIN 84

Q4 11.7: Timout on the floor after two quick drives and scores by James Harden, giving the Rockets and 87-84 lead with 11.7 left. Adelman is drawing up the next play. HOU 87, MIN 84

Q4 44.1: It's a one-point game here at Target Center, Houston ball coming out of the timeout and the Wolves up 84-83. The last scoring play for Minnesota was a nice feed from Shved to Kirilenko for the dunk. Minnesota has missed a couple close-out baskets since, and we're going to have quite a finish here down the stretch. MIN 84, HOU 83

Q4 2:56: We've got a ballgame here with 2:56 left. After the Rockets took a 79-78 lead on James Harden's drive, Alexey Shved came back with a 3-pointer to make it 81-78. Jeremy Lin responded with a long two, and we've got a tie game here with a jump ball on the Wolves' offensive end coming up. MIN 81, HOU 81

Q4 8:10: The Timberwolves announced that tonight's crowd of 20,340 is the third largest crowd in Target Center history and the second sellout of the season. Really nice crowd tonight, but I didn't realize it was this big. The Wolves said they sold just under 1,000 standing-room-only tickets to tonight's game. Minnesota hopes to send the crowd home with a win. They're up six with 7:10 to play. MIN 76, HOU 70

End Q3: The Wolves opened up a 14-point lead in the third quarter, but Houston climbed back and it's a three-point game as we head into the fourth. Still, so far the Wolves are putting together a pretty strong defensive effort. Houston scored just 17 points that quarter, so the difference was Minnesota being unable to capitalize. Through three quarters, the Wolves have contained a team that scored 122.0 points per game over its last three contests. Alexey Shved leads the team with 13 points, while JJ Barea has 11 and Cunningham and Ridnour each have eight. James Harden has 13 points, and Chandlers Parsons has 12 points for Houston to lead the Rockets. On another note, Pekovic is back in the game for the Wolves. MIN 64, HOU 61

Q3 3:18: The Wolves continue to pester the Rockets and make everything difficult for them offensively, including fast breaks. Meanwhile, Houston has turned the ball over 15 times translating into 18 Wolves points. That's going to be an important statistic down the stretch, because Minnesota needs to capitalize when the Rockets give them extra possessions. Minnesota still has eight more field goal attempts than Houston tonight. Alexey Shved is 6-of-11 with 13 points, and Dante Cunningham has come alive here with eight points and five boards. He started the second half at the 4 and Love moved to the 5 as Nikola Pekovic left the game due to illness. He is listed as questionable for the rest of the game. Ricky Rubio just re-entered the game for the Wolves. MIN 62, HOU 57

Q3 9:21: The Wolves just opened up a 54-46 lead after Alexey Shved just hit his first 3-pointer of the night. He's got 11 points and leads the Wolves in scoring tonight. Seems like since the middle of the second quarter if the Wolves need a big shot, Shved or Barea have been there to make it happen. Largest Wolves lead of the night. MIN 54, HOU 46

Halftime: The Wolves head into the half up 47-44 and really shot their way back into this game. After harboring a shooting percentage below 30 percent for much of the first half, they're shooting 41 percent as a team right now thanks in large part to energy provided by JJ Barea and Alexey Shved. Shved is 4-of-7 tonight with eight points, and Barea has nine points off the bench. Derrick Williams is 2-of-2 from 3 and has six points, while Love has seven points and seven boards and Luke Ridnour has six points. For the Rockets, James Harden has 13 points and Chandler Parsons had 10. Houston has 12 turnovers tonight, really allowing the Wolves to get more offensive opportunities. Minnesota has eight more field goal attempts than the Rockets. MIN 47, HOU 44

Q2 2:54: Nice ball movement at the tail end of that last offensive set for the Wolves, as Alexey Shved took the ball in the far corner, threw a pass out to a wide open JJ Barea on the wing who drained his first 3-pointer of the night and cut Houston's lead to 40-38. Barea has nine points off the bench tonight on 4-of-8 shooting and is the Wolves' leading scorer. HOU 40, MIN 38

Q2 5:44: The Wolves just climbed all the way back in a matter of minutes, as a pair of 3-pointers by Derrick Williams and a drive by JJ Barea turned a 31-23 deficit into a tie game. As it stands, the Wolves trail by three with 5:44 to play in the second. Meanwhile, the scoreboard just showed the squirrel scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which means win or lose it's a good night at Target Center. HOU 36, MIN 33

Q2 8:45: heading into the timeout Marcus Morris just scored on the fast break while drawing the foul, and he'll go to the line as the Rockets have opened up a seven-point lead. Minnesota needs at least an average night from 3-point range tonight to hang with this high-scoring Rockets club, but they're shooting 1-of-8 from distance to start the game. Meanwhile, Houston has given Minnesota opportunities to get into their offensive sets as the Rockets have six turnovers already tonight. HOU 30, MIN 23

End Q1: The Wolves are trailing by five after the first, but they're doing a pretty good job defensively not giving the Rockets open looks and challenging their transition game. If you're watching tonight keep an eye on both Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham. They've had a pretty big impact so far tonight tipping balls on rebounds and making plays that lead to steals, missed baskets or blocks. HOU 22, MIN 17

Q1 2:19: Neither team is necessarily shooting the lights out tonight. Minnesota is currently sitting 6-of-20 as a team, while Houston is 7-of-16. Both teams are 1-of-6 from 3-point range. So far the Wolves are pestering James Harden and challenging his shots all the way to the rim, and it's working. He's 2-for-6 with six points to start, but you know he's going to get his shots off and get his points. The key is not letting him get into a rhythm. Love currently with seven points and five rebounds, and Pek has five boards as well. HOU 17, MIN 15

Q1 7:07: Houston got out in transition early but on two occasions the Wolves came up with stops, including a block by AK on James Harden at the rim. The Rockets have three turnovers in the first five minutes, leading to three Wolves' points. Kevin Love and Luke Ridnour have four points each, and the Wolves lead 8-4 early. MIN 8, HOU 4

Starting Lineups:
Rockets: PG-Jeremy Lin, SG-James Harden, SF-Chandler Parsons, PF-Marcus Morris, C-Omer Asik

Wolves: PG-Luke Ridnour, SG-Alexey Shved, SF-Andrei Kirilenko, PF-Kevin Love, C-Nikola Pekovic

Pregame 7:00 PM: Part of the reason the Rockets have had such offensive success recently is the way they're spacing themselves and dictating pace of play, according to Rockets coach Kevin McHale. McHale said for a while this season Houston lacked rhythm, but once they began getting a feel for spacing the floor and allowing guys like Jeremy Lin and James Harden to penetrate, good things began to happen. He said one key to that is having guys like power forward Marcus Morris on the court who can stretch the defense with his ability to shoot outside.

Adelman talked pregame about Omer Asik's presence in the paint, and McHale said he expects to see a pretty intense meeting on the boards between Asik and Pekovic.

"That's going to be a heavyweight brawl out there, that's for sure," McHale said. "That's going to be a big thing. Can we control [Pekovic] rolling down the middle clearing out space? Last year they had Kevin and him, and I remember one game in particular the numbers were astronomically high between the two of them. We can't allow that to happen."

Asik is averaging 11.6 rebounds per game this year, good for fourth in the NBA. His rebounding is a key for the Rockets as they try to get out in transition, so being able to take good shots or limiting those boards will be crucial for the Wolves. Pekovic is coming off a 17-rebound performance against the Knicks. He's averaging 8.3 boards per game, while Love is hauling in 13.9 rebounds a night. This should be an interesting matchup on the boards.

Starting lineups and tip just moments away. Pregame 6:25 PM: Wolves coach Rick Adelman is preparing for the type of offensive explosion the Rockets have shown over the past couple weeks, and he knows the biggest challenge that Houston presents is the fact that their starting guards, Jeremy Lin and James Harden, can attack and score or dish off to a physical center in Omer Asik in the middle. A team needs to be defensively sound in order to handle the type of choices Houston will create for themselves offensively tonight.

"They use their big guy like Pek," Adelman said. "They roll him right down the middle. It's a tough choice when you have Harden coming at you or Lin and they have him rolling down the middle at you. Defensively you have to be in tune."

Houston is averaging 122.0 points per night over its last three games, and a lot of that has to do with their efficient transition game. That will be a factor again tonight, particularly with how the Wolves try and defend the Rockets. Adelman said Alexey Shved will likely get his time facing Harden, and Andrei Kirilenko could likely get into the mix as well. But when Houston is off and running, that changes the complexion of the game and who is guarding guys like Harden.

The key, Adelman said, is attacking them on the other end but also getting good shots.

"You can't fire it up and get to the open court," Adelman said. "Their big guy does a great job of rebounding the ball. When they get it, they're gone. You have to make sure you get good shots, but you still have to attack them. I think we can get to the basket against them. Transition is the key."

Meanwhile, Adelman said Ricky Rubio's minutes could be increased a bit tonight, but not much. Rubio has been in the 18-minute range during his first four games, and he has no pain in his surgically repaired knee during that time. Still, Adelman said the Wolves will probably be incremental in this process.

Adelman said Kevin Love will have no limitations as he returns from missing Sunday's game with a left eye injury. He joked Love told him his parameters for the evening: "I asked him if he had limitations," Adelman said, "and he said 36 minutes—18 a half. I can deal with that."

More from Rockets coach Kevin McHale closer to tipoff. We're about 40 minutes away.

Pregame 3:00 PM: Big game tonight for the Timberwolves, who return home after a heartbreaker against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. They’ll take on a Houston Rockets team that is averaging 122.0 points per game over their past three contests against three pretty good teams—the Bulls, the Grizzlies and the 76ers. Not bad company. They’ll face off tonight at Target Center at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports North and 830 WCCO-AM.

It’s funny to think that a year ago tonight the Wolves opened up their 2011-12 regular season against the Oklahoma City Thunder. A lot has changed in those 365 days—not only is this a traditional season but the Wolves have transformed their roster and their identity. Instead of hitting the ground running out of the lockout, this newly-revamped team is playing its 26th game tonight and are seeking their 14th win.

A couple key notes touched on at Wolves’ Shootaround today included containing the Rockets and their transition game. They are currently second in the NBA with 18.3 fast-break points per game this year, but over their last three contests they’ve averaged 27.3 points in transition per night. Andrei Kirilenko said, simply, the Wolves will need to have their running shoes on.

Wolves guard Ricky Rubio spoke at shootaround this morning as well, saying his knee feels fine and the biggest issues, if any, that he’s had in his first week back in game action is the soreness from other parts of his body. He’s basically going through his version of Training Camp and preseason on the fly, so he’s getting re-acclimated to game play. No official word on if he’s going to increase his minutes tonight, but he said he hasn’t felt any discomfort in his knee during his first four games.

In more pressing matters, Kevin Love addressed his beard’s matchup against James Harden today at shootaround, saying that his Team USA teammate has the edge—for now.

“Mine’s still kind of in the works,” Love said. “I’ve got to give the edge to James at this point. I’m going to let mine keep growing and maybe shape it up a little bit, but I’m going to keep it nice and I guess healthy.”

Derrick Williams told me today that Love wants to keep the beard growing until All-Star Break, so there is plenty of time to get caught up between now and mid-March.

More updates to come throughout the afternoon/pregame, and be sure to follow along with tonight’s game right here for more news and notes. In the meantime, here are a few pregame notes:

  • The Wolves trail in the series, 37-57, and are 22-26 at home. The Wolves have won the last three games in the series. Prior to that, the Rockets had won 15 out of 16 games.

  • Kevin Love is averaging 28.3 points, on 59.7% shooting (55-for-92), and 14.0 rebounds in his last six games vs. Houston.

  • The Wolves' 13-12 record is the team's best 25-game record since achieving the same mark in 2005-06. Minnesota was 15-10 in 2004-05. The Wolves have used 10 different starting lineups this season.

  • Minnesota out-rebounded New York by 11 boards (47-35) on Sunday, the team's 11th double-digit rebounding margin this season -- they had 10 such games in 2011-12. The Wolves lead the NBA in rebounding differential at +5.58 per game.

  • The Wolves rank 4th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (25.8) and have allowed the 3rd fewest free throw attempts (20.0). Minnesota has attempted 30+ FTs in a game 10 times this season and allowed less than 20 FTs in a game 12 times.

  • Kevin Love has recorded a double-double in 11 of his 14 games this season and 123 of the 142 games he's played in since the start of the 2010-11 season.

  • Nikola Pekovic is averaging 22.3 ppg, on 54.2% shooting, and 10.9 rpg over the last seven games. He has recorded a double-double in his last four games (8 for the season).

  • J.J. Barea has scored in double-digits the last 11 games, averaging 12.6 points, on 44.9% shooting, and 4.6 assists over that stretch.

  • Alexey Shved has started the last six games, averaging 7.2 assists over that stretch. He ranks 2nd among rookies in assists (4.5) and 6th in scoring (10.6).

  • Houston has won its last four games and six of its last seven. The Rockets are 0-6 on the road against Western Conference teams this year.

  • The Rockets are averaging 122 points in their last three games, outscoring their opponents by more than 23 points per game over that span. Overall, Houston ranks 1st in the NBA in scoring at 106.0 ppg.

  • James Harden ranks 4th in the NBA in scoring with 25.7 ppg and 1st in free throws made with 227. He has scored 20+ points in a career-high nine straight games.

  • Omer Asik has recorded a double-double in the last three games (13 for the season), averaging 17.0 ppg and 15.0 rpg over those three games.

  • Jeremy Lin is averaging 18.8 points and 9.0 assists over the last four games.

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