Wolves Down Rockets, Reach .500 With 100-91 Win

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Four times in the past two weeks, the Minnesota Timberwolves had a shot to even their record at .500. Each time the Wolves came up short but rebounded to give themselves another opportunity.

On Saturday in front of a sold out Target Center crowd, the Wolves benefited from that resilience. Minnesota started fast, used a speedy three-guard lineup through much of the second half and staved off a late Houston comeback in a 100-91 win over the Rockets.

The victory, which was Minnesota’s second over Houston in the past week, gave the Wolves a .500 record this late in a season for the first time since being 22-22 in 2006-07.

After the game, the Wolves (12-12) made it clear this was simply a milestone, not a final destination.

“We’ve got a lot of talent here, and we’ve got to keep it going,” guard JJ Barea said. “This is nothing. We’re going to try and keep winning.”

The Wolves played in a unique three point guard set for much of the second half, using Barea, Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour on the floor along with center Nikola Pekovic—who started in place of injured Darko Milicic—and forward Kevin Love. The result was a quicker lineup, one that moved the ball efficiently and drove to the hoop with ease.

Barea said Houston used a smaller lineup to pick up a 107-92 win at Target Center earlier this year, and it was Minnesota’s way of combating their talented duo of guards in Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin.

“Anytime you’ve got Pek and Kevin down there, they’re pretty big so they’ll take care of the boards,” Barea said. “Houston was going small, that’s how they won the first game here and so we knew we had to go small and it worked for us tonight.”

Ridnour set the tone early. He led the way during a first quarter in which Minnesota shot 68.4 percent. Ridnour scored 10 of his 22 points in the first and began the game shooting 4-for-4 as the Wolves—who haven’t always started strong at home this season—took a 33-25 lead heading into the second.

In the second half, Minnesota opened up its biggest lead of the night at 62-46 early in the third and held a double-digit advantage through much of the third. Holding Martin to 1-of-10 shooting in the game—he scored 31 and 29 points, respectively, in the teams’ previous two meetings—the Wolves continued to keep its separation until the fourth when Houston made its run.

Lowry made his move with 8:22 left. The Rockets shifty point guard cut the lead to seven with a driving lay-up, nailed a 3-pointer and added a finger roll at the 5:03 mark to cut Minnesota’s lead to 88-85.

But the Wolves responded, with Ridnour and Love hitting back-to-back 3-pointers and Rubio driving for a lay-up with 2:25 remaining to quickly extend Minnesota’s lead to 98-91.

Coach Rick Adelman said the team is learning to stay mentally tough, even during points in the game when opponents make their runs. The key, Adelman said, is continuing to play with confidence.

“They’re staying with it more; they’re not hanging their heads when someone goes on a run,” Adelman said. “They’ve got to play through that.”

Love again led the way for Minnesota with 25 points and 18 rebounds on the night, giving him his league-leading 22nd double-double of the year. Pekovic scored 11 points and added nine rebounds—his second-to-last board being a powerful offensive rebound that set up Ridnour’s game-changing 3-pointer with 4:10 to play.

Rubio put together his sixth double-double in his past nine games with 13 points and 11 assists. He’s tied with Deron Williams for the league lead in point-assist double-doubles with 11. Barea added 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting on the night.

The Rockets (13-11) got 24 points apiece from Luis Scola and Lowry, who also added 11 assists. Chandler Parsons had 11, and Patrick Patterson had 14. Martin finished with two points on the night.

The Wolves get back-to-back days off before getting a shot at eclipsing the .500 mark on Tuesday at home against Sacramento. Love, who has the longest tenure on the team, said it’s a big step for this team to have a shot at that point.

“We want to come out and keep this thing going in the right direction,” Love said.

Adelman said being able to win at home is an important step.

“Our guys are locked in,” Adelman said. “They want to get better and what we haven’t done is we haven’t been able to beat teams consistently here. We need to do that. We need to establish our home court situation.”

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