GameDay Blog: Wolves vs. Rockets - Jan. 19, 2013

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Final: That's a wrap from Target Center. The Timberwolves ended their five-game losing streak with a 92-79 win over the Rockets, handing Houston their seventh straight defeat. The story of the night were the two new Wolves, as Chris Johnson scored 15 and Mickael Gelabale had 11. Andrei Kirilenko had 21 points, Luke Ridnour had 16 and Derrick Williams had 11. James Harden had 18 for the Rockets. Stay tuned for more analysis, photos and interviews from the Wolves tonight at Timberwolves.com. MIN 92, HOU 79

Q4 3:21: For those keeping track at home, Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale have a combined 24 points tonight and they have all 21 points in the fourth quarter. They're getting to the line and have combined to go 12-for-15 from the line tonight. And with Minnesota sitting with a nine-point lead here with 3:21 left, Porter is sticking with those two along with Ridnour, Rubio and Kirilenko on the floor. MIN 84, HOU 75

Q4 5:58: The newbies are having nice debuts with the Wolves tonight, and they're providing a spark here as we come down the stretch in the fourth. The entered the fourth quarter with a combined three points. Johnson currently has 11 on 3-of-3 shooting and Gelabale has eight on 2-of-5 shooting. They are a combined 9-of-11 from the line, and each has pulled down four rebounds. This is big in a game that had been a three-point Wolves edge a few minutes ago. It is now a 10-point advantage with 5:58 left. MIN 79, HOU 69

Q4 8:54: And the Chris Johnson era has begun. Johnson is legitimately having himself a nice night here in his Wolves debut, adding a spark off the bench in the fourth after Houston cut the lead to three. Johnson has 10 points tonight on 3-of-3 shooting and another 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. He entered the game and immediately grabbed and offensive rebound and put-back, and he has electrified the crowd to the point they are chanting "M-V-P" when he touches the ball or goes to the line. Meanwhile, Mickael Gelabale was just part of forcing a turnover on the sidelines that gives Minnesota the ball with a nine-point lead. MIN 71, HOU 62

End Q3: Here come the Rockets. Houston has trailed by as many as 13 tonight, but they cut the lead to four at the end of the third and Minnesota needs to find a way to slow Houston down on the boards. The Rockets have a 34-20 edge on the glass, and they're getting enough second chance opportunities to get back into this game. They're getting a kick start from their bench, as Delfino has 15 points and Smith has added 12--including some impressive drives and finishes at the rim. MIN 63, HOU 59

Q3 2:42: Houston has a 31-19 edge in the rebounding department, but they haven't been able to take advantage of their 17 offensive rebounds because they're shooting just 30.2 percent from the field. They actually have more offensive rebounds than field goals (16) tonight. They also have 17 turnovers, which has hampered their offense all night long. Big night from AK on the Wolves side. He's got 17 on 6-of-8 shooting, and Ridnour has 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. MIN 60, MIN 49

Q3 8:07: Greg Stiemsma has had a nice start to the second half here at Target Center. He's got two blocks tonight and has asserted himself on the defensive end. As a result, he's a game-high plus-19 tonight as we resume play with Andrei Kirilenko at the line. Luke Ridnour leads the team with 12 points, and D-Will and AK each have 11. Minnesota has dipped below 50 percent from the field, but they are leading by 11. MIN 50, HOU 39

Halftime: Pretty effective first half for the Wolves considering only seven players who were on the team yesterday dressed for this game. They've already gotten six minutes from Gelabale and three from Johnson, which helps distribute minutes out on a night in which that could make a big difference, and the Wolves have a six point lead at the half. D-Will has 11 points and AK has 10. Barea with seven points off the bench. The key tonight has been limiting open looks for Harden and Lin. They have shot a combined 4-of-15 tonight, although Harden is 7-of-9 from the line. Asik only has two rebounds, though the Rockets have a 21-13 edge in that department. Both teams are battling in the turnover department--Houston has 10 and Minnesota has nine. Wolves leading 22-14 in the paint. MIN 44, HOU 38

Q2 4:30: Seven straight points for the Wolves here as they take a 37-31 lead late in the second quarter. Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko have had an efficient night from the 3 and 4 positions, combining for 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds. Derrick is 1-of-2 from 3-point range and has a team-high nine points. MIN 37, HOU 31

Q2 5:54: Houston took its first lead of the night moments ago as James Harden got matched up with Lou Amundson on the perimeter, drove in for a midrange jumper and got the roll. But the Wolves are holding their own here, especially with their two new guys getting minutes here in the second quarter. They're still shooting 56.5 percent from the floor and are 2-of-4 from 3-point range. Rubio is logging minutes late in the second quarter, and we've got Stiemsma and Derrick Williams back in the game. HOU 31, MIN 30

Q2 8:05: Houston opened up the second on a 5-0 run and quickly tied the game up at 21-21, and they've traded baskets essentially for the last three minutes since. Minnesota is getting its first look at Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson, each of whom have gotten minutes together on the court in the second. Johnson just put together his first highlight reel play with the Wolves, taking a J.J. Barea pass and finishing off the alley-oop for his first two points with Minnesota. MIN 27, HOU 24

End Q1: After 1, the Timberwolves are holding onto a 21-16 lead and have put together a nice defensive quarter against a Rockets team with potential to score in bunches. They're led by AK's eight points, Ridnour's seven and D-Will's four. James Harden has five to lead the Rockets, but Houston is shooting 35 percent from the field and are shooting 2-of-7 from 3. To start the second we're getting our first look at Mickael Gelabale, who opens up the quarter with Rubio, Barea, D-Will and Lou. MIN 21, HOU 16

Q1 2:59: Luke Ridnour just hit a 3-pointer that put the Wolves up 19-10 late in the first quarter. Luke has been awfully effective on the offensive end since he moved to 2-guard next to Rubio in the starting lineup. He had 21 points on Thursday, and he already has seven tonight. He also scored on a fast-break moments ago and ended up running five rows deep into a baseline aisle. Good to see Luke get going here, and the Wolves certainly could use a nice game from 3-point range against this dangerous Rockets team. MIN 19, HOU 10

Q1 5:32: The Wolves are off to a strong start tonight, shooting 66.7 percent (6-of-9) from the floor while holding the Rockets to 4-of-13 from the field through 6 1/2 minutes. Andrei Kirilenko is leading the way on the scoreboard--he's got six points early on and is a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. Derrick Williams has four points and already has a pretty alley-oop dunk from AK early on. Quick substitution as J.J. Barea checks in for Rubio here after the timeout. Likely saving Ricky and his 28 minutes for later in the game. MIN 14, HOU 8

Starters:
Rockets:
PG-Jeremy Lin, SG-James Harden, SF-Chandler Parsons, PF-Patrick Patterson, C-Omer Asik

Wolves: PG-Ricky Rubio, SG-Luke Ridnour, SF-Andrei Kirilenko, PF-Derrick Williams, C-Greg Stiemsma

Pregame 6:45 PM: The Rockets are currently on a six-game losing streak, and coach Kevin McHale said they're looking for a spark to get out of that slump. Part of the equation tonight will likely be the productivity of Houston's back court duo Jeremy Lin and James Harden. Harden in particular has been a scoring menace this season, averaging 26.0 points per game. McHale said their dynamic in the back court is getting better as the season progresses.

"The last few games we've been good enough to hang around in games but not good enough to win them," McHale said. "We've got to amp up things, we've got to get better, and James and Jeremy are a big part of that. They've got to be guys that are going to lead us from the backcourt. Jeremy is big on us, if he's pushing the ball, we get good pace, we play a little bit better, but like I said, I think our whole team in general right now is just a little bit off. It's a long, long season and every team goes through a few little downturns, but we've got to get ourselves out of it."

Porter said Harden has the euro step down, giving him the honors of the first American to really be able to master what he called the "Ginobili Two-Step" to the basket. Harden's ability to get to the hoop in that fashion and driving off pick-and-rolls was crucial in the Wolves and Rockets' last meeting, when Harden split two picks late in the game and scored the final four points in an 87-84 win.

"I don't know if he had to pay some copyrights to Ginobili on that one, but eh's got it down on open space when he's attacking on open space from the top," Porter said. "We've got to do all hands on deck so to speak when it comes to having the ball in his hands and he's attacking."

Pregame 6:20 PM: A couple of status updates from pregame include Dante Cunningham being officially ruled out tonight due to illness. Over the past week Lazar Hayward, Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved and now Cunningham have all had some form of illness that has forced them to miss time either in a game or at practice. Cunningham's absence means the Wolves will have nine healthy players tonight, including two players—Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale—that were signed to 10-day contracts today. Minnesota has played with nine players this season, but never with two of them playing their first games in the NBA this season after just inking new deals.

Center Greg Stiemsma will likely get the start tonight, according to interim coach Terry Porter, and he'll be tasked with handling Omer Asik in the post. Asik is averaging 11.2 rebounds per game this season, and without Pek and Kevin Love the Wolves will have some work to do keeping him controlled in the paint. Then again, Porter said everyone has to chip in and do their part in that department.

"It's a group thing now," Porter said. "Everyone's got to get in and get those guards, get 2-3 more and the guys when you're in there and you can't get ti, deflect it, try to chase it down. But it's going to be a collective effort. Everyone's got to have that sense of urgency that we've got to get it. We've got to do a good job of making contact with your opponent if he's a rebounder, realizing there has to be contact there first and then turn and pursue."

Pregame 4:10 PM: Happy Saturday and welcome to Target Center for tonight's game between the Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets. Tonight's matchup pits two teams currently sitting ninth and 10th in the Western Conference race against one another, each sitting one loss behind Portland in the loss column for the eighth spot and each desperately looking for a victory. Minnesota has lost five straight games heading into tonight, and the Rockets have lost six in a row. The Rockets stole an 87-84 win at Target Center on Dec. 26.

For the Wolves, the trouble continues to be their health. They had two more injuries on Thursday night against the Clippers as Nikola Pekovic suffered a right quad contusion, and Alexey Shved left the game with a sprained left ankle. Both are out tonight. Meanwhile, Dante Cunningham was not present at shootaround due to illness and is questionable for tonight's game against the Rockets. The Wolves were granted a hardship exception by the NBA this week, and they signed Training Camp invitee Chris Johnson to a 10-day contract with that exception. The Wolves also signed Mickael Gelabale to a 10-day contract, and both were at shootaround this morning. Both figure to get some minutes tonight because of the team's injury situation. Johnson spent some extra time with player development coach David Adelman and assistant coach T.R. Dunn this morning getting some extra shots and reps up in preparation for his return to the Wolves. Meanwhile, look for Greg Stiemsma to get the start for Pekovic at the center position.

More to come throughout the day/night, so stay tuned. Tonight's game is not televised so be sure to stick with Timberwolves.com's live blog and also follow along on Twitter with the Wolves' @MNTimberwolves and my @MarkRemme accounts.

Here are some pregame notes for tonight's matchup:

  • The Wolves trail in the series 37-58 and are 22-27 at home. Houston won the series opener this year, 87-84, at Target Center. Prior to that, the Wolves had won the three previous meetings.


  • Minnesota will try to snap a five-game losing streak tonight. The Wolves are 10th in the Western Conference, 2.5 games behind Houston and Portland. Minnesota is 10-6 at Target Center this season and has 8 of its next 11 games at home. The Wolves are 8-0 this season when scoring 100+ points.


  • Minnesota has recorded double-digit rebounding margins in 14 games this season --- they had 10 such games in 2011-12. The Wolves are 2nd in the NBA in rebounding differential at +4.39 per game.


  • The Wolves rank 5th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (25.6) and have allowed the 2nd fewest free throw attempts (19.4). Minnesota has attempted 30+ FTs in a game 13 times this season and allowed less than 20 FTs in a game 16 times.


  • Andrei Kirilenko is one of five players in the NBA with at least 40 blocks and 40 steals this season (Batum, Durant, Noah, Josh Smith).


  • Kirilenko is averaging 12.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in the last four games.


  • Luke Ridnour is averaging 15.3 ppg, on 49.0% shooting, and 4.3 assists over the last four games.


  • Derrick Williams is averaging 12.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game in the last seven contests.


  • Houston has lost its last six games, five of those being road contests. Prior to that, the Rockets had won 10 of 12 games. Houston is 1-9 on the road against Western Conference teams this season, with that lone win coming at Target Center on Dec. 26.


  • The Rockets rank 2nd in the NBA in points scored at 105.1 ppg. They also rank 4th in steals at 8.68 spg and 7th in field goal percentage at 45.7%.


  • James Harden ranks 5th in the NBA in scoring with 26.0 ppg. He has tallied 30+ points 12 times this season. Harden also ranks 6th in steals with 1.90 spg.


  • Omer Asik ranks 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.



  • For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter, and join the conversation at WolvesNation.com.