Rockets 105, Wolves 119 - Houston's Winning Streak Runs Out of Gas

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For the second time this season, the Houston Rockets are looking to extend their winning streak to ten on the second night of a back-to-back in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. Unfortunately, the Rockets could not repeat the near-miraculous comeback of the first meeting and the winning streak was put to an end.

There was absolutely no energy in the building to start this game, probably because it was six degrees in Minneapolis (who wants to travel in that?), but it could also have to do with the fact that Houston had to fight off a furious comeback from the Charlotte Hornets just last night. Nonetheless, the Rockets came out flat and allow the Wolves to walk all over them. Andrew Wiggins was especially on fire, hitting six of his first seven shot attempts and scoring 15 points in the opening period.

The Rockets struggled mightily to shoot the ball early, missing all seven of their three-point attempts (six of them from Ryan Anderson). Montrezl Harrell, on the other hand, was the only starter that brought any energy to Houston – and he scored nine points in the first to minimize the damage done. The Rockets were down at the end of the opening period 30-23.

The missed three-point attempts in the first quarter weren’t necessarily about bad offense (every shot Anderson took was open), but the first half of the second quarter was. With James Harden getting his usual rest to start the second, Houston’s offense stagnated and the Wolves built their lead up to 11 points. Thankfully, the Rockets held their own defensively and forced turnovers before Minnesota could capitalize on Houston’s lack of scoring. The Wolves turned the ball over back to the Rockets seven times in the second period (12 in the half), and the combination of Harden scoring eight and the Rockets nailing six straight threes helped the Rockets cut into the deficit.

In the last moments of the first half, Patrick Beverley took a tough charge in the paint, which gave the Rockets the ball out of bounds with just 1.3 seconds left on the game clock. Naturally, the Rockets looked for Nene to hit a buzzer beater and the Rockets went into halftime down 55-54.

James Harden opened the third quarter with a three that gave the Rockets their first lead of the game (57-55). Both team traded the lead a few times for the majority of the period, but Houston’s inability to execute offensively allowed the Wolves to regain the lead and build it to eight points following a 9-0 run. The third quarter really grinded to a halt with the refs calling a foul or a turnover seemingly every time down the court. Despite Harden looking to score a little more aggressively (he had 26 by the end of the third), the Rockets looked totally gassed defensively and found themselves down by double-digits going into the fourth (89-77).

The Wolves started the fourth quarter with far more energy and a 10-0 run, ballooning their lead up to 20 points. Ryan Anderson threatened to lead the Rockets to a huge comeback (like in the previous meeting between these two teams) by draining three in a row from deep, but it was all for naught as the Rockets could not get a stop on the other end of the floor.

Houston’s primary problem in this game was dead legs. That tends to happen on the second half of a back-to-back, but it’s especially the case when the Rockets are down two starters (Clint Capela and Eric Gordon) and had to expend a ton of energy just to win the previous night. Montrezl Harrell and Nene getting into foul trouble certainly didn’t help, but poor shooting and even worse defense was the death knell for the nine-game winning streak.

For Minnesota, Andrew Wiggins scored 28 points, Karl Anthony Towns posted 23 points and 18 rebounds, and Shabazz Muhammed contributed 20 points and seven rebounds. Aside from Harden, the Rockets only had two other players - Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza - with double-digit scoring.

The Rockets look to start another winning streak on Friday when the Memphis Grizzlies visit Toyota Center.

Game Ball

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Wednesday’s game ball goes to James Harden.

This one goes to James Harden by default, as he was the only player that could actually facilitate the offense in any way. Games like this are where the Rockets really miss Eric Gordon’s scoring and secondary playmaking (which would relieve Harden from shouldering the burden). Harden only made two of his eleven shot attempts from beyond the arc, but he still managed to score 33 points and dish out 12 assists.

Ryan Anderson’s late flurry threatened to take this game ball, but he finally caught his rhythm way too late in this game. Houston’s going to need him to find a rhythm much earlier in games, and they’ll need James Harden to continue to take on the scoring load.

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