The Timberwolves tempted fate on three different occasions against the last-place Houston Rockets this season.
The third time was the charm, in the worst possible way for Minnesota.
The Wolves dropped Monday’s road contest 119-114 to hapless Houston.
The victory snapped Houston’s 13-game losing streak. Seven of those defeats had come by 15-plus points.
That’s what happens when you turn the ball over, don’t rebound, take bad shots and don’t defend at a high intensity. Minnesota has spent its season overlooking lesser foes to its own detriment. Minnesota now owns six losses this season to the league’s four worst teams, having lost twice to both San Antonio and Detroit and one apiece to Houston and Charlotte.
“You are what you repeatedly do, right? And we repeatedly struggle with these types of games. Focus, sure, has to be part of the problem,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “These are games that your opponents that you’re chasing on the table tend not to (lose). But we have the ability to beat anybody and we have the ability to lose to anybody. And that’s been on display all season. That’s an immature trait.”
Monday’s loss was the worst to date. Houston is rarely competitive. Yet the Rockets pushed Minnesota for much of Saturday’s contest, then flat out beat the Wolves on Monday. The victory came in Rudy Gobert’s return to the floor.
Minnesota won Saturday’s contest late with a switch-heavy defense that stifled Houston. But Minnesota plays a drop coverage on pick and rolls with Gobert in the lineup. Houston second-year guard Jalen Green torched that look Monday, getting to the rim with ease and hitting a series of open jumpers en route to a career-high 42-point performance.
Houston jumped out to a 9-0 advantage Monday — the second contest between the two foes in three days.
“Which pretty much told me what it was going to be for the rest of the game,” Finch said.
It’s not uncommon for NBA teams to split these two-game slates, which made Monday dangerous for Minnesota, even against a significantly inferior opponent.
The Wolves have, at times, been able to recover from similarly sluggish starts. And they did manage to knot the game by halftime Monday, largely thanks to a 19-point half from D’Angelo Russell, who continued his hot shooting streak.
Anthony Edwards and Russell had 31 and 30 points, respectively.
But Minnesota was buried by another incompetent third-quarter effort. Ten of the Wolves’ 19 turnovers occurred in a third frame in which Houston (11-36) scored 34 points to take a nine-point lead heading into the fourth.
Minnesota couldn’t generate anywhere near enough stops to dig itself out of that hole. The Rockets shot 50% from the field. The offense was equally as guilty, though. Minnesota trailed 100-99 with five minutes to play. From there, the Timberwolves missed their next nine shot attempts.
A victory Monday would’ve catapulted Minnesota above .500 for the first time since Dec. 20 and into the sixth spot in the Western Conference.
But the Timberwolves (24-25) continue to be too inconsistent to achieve anything of consequence.
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