Just two nights ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves beat a playoff team in their house with their win over the Portland Trail Blazers. As I noted in that recap, they have beaten seven of this season's playoff teams at their own houses. That's all well and good, but another disappointing return to Target Center makes them a hard sell to home fans as the Houston Rockets rolled in and looked like the team they're supposed to be in a dominating 129-105 victory over the subdued Wolves.
Houston has underwhelmed all season, and tonight's win for them keeps them in touch with the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. They played with urgency, and when James Harden and Dwight Howard play like the enormous talents they are, the Wolves were completely outmatched. Harden led the Rockets with 34 points and six assists, and while Howard only finished with 19 points and eight boards, he was dominant as the Rockets established their lead, and only needed to play 27 minutes before the result was completely settled.
For the Wolves, tonight's problems were familiar: an early offensive rebound led to Harden, of all people, wide open for three from the corner, with Gorgui Dieng having ended up "covering" him from some kind of switch. Howard was ever-present on the offensive glass, as was Clint Capela (who finished with 10 points and 10 boards of his own), and no matter the efforts of Karl-Anthony Towns and Dieng, they could do very little about the Rockets' interior dominance. While the final rebounding totals finished 35-30 Houston, the damage was done early and balanced out during garbage time.
A bright spot for the Wolves was the continued solid play from Nemanja Bjelica, who will finish the year playing his best ball of the season. Bjelica, through the lopsided result and solid play, actually led the Wolves in minutes in this game with 29:12, and had nearly half of the Wolves' 30 rebounds with a career-best 14 to go with 11 points for his second straight double-double. The next closest rebounder for the Wolves was Towns with a meager 5. Bjelica couldn't single-handedly bring the Wolves back, but his solid effort on defense and on the boards was notable in the midst of a lot of bad play.
Really, though, this game was a lot of garbage time. The starters sat for the final seven minutes, and Damjan Rudez was wheeled out of whatever closet the Wolves had stashed him in for those final seven minutes, his highest minute total since March 4. Shabazz Muhammad (23 points, 9-13, 1-3 3P) and LaVine (21, 8-14, 3-7 3P) provided a decent bit of scoring, but this game's problem had nothing to do with the offense. The defense was simply nonexistent, the Rockets filing through the lane for wide-open dunk after wide-open dunk between draining threes (they finished 15-30 from outside).
The Wolves have one game left on Wednesday to show their home fans a better effort. Here's hoping it looks better than this replay of some of tonight's game action.