The combination of a scheduling quirk and the impressive way the Houston Rockets have been playing this season has produced this:
For the second time in less than a month the Rockets are entering a game with the Timberwolves at Target Center (tonight at 7) on a nine-game winning streak.
“That is unusual,’’ Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But they’re probably playing as well as anyone in the league. And they have been for a long time now. Since [Patrick] Beverley has been back, it’s at a complete different level. The way they’re playing? Impressive.’’
You all remember what happened here Dec. 17, right? The Wolves played well for about the first 45 minutes of that game. The Wolves were up by 12 points with 2:20 left in regulation. But Houston poured on a 14-2 run to force overtime, winning in OT.
That was a night in which Karl-Anthony Towns scored 41 points with 15 rebounds.
The Wolves were up nine with a minute left in regulation.
--So, now, the Wolves get another chance tonight, and they were without guard Zach LaVine, who is dealing with a hip contusion. Thibodeau said LaVine did mainly rehab work this morning. LaVine warmed up before the game, and a decision would be made, Thibodeau said. Minutes later Shabazz Muhammad said LaVine was “down’’ for the game.
So we’ll see.
--In any event, the Wolves will have to figure out a way to slow the Rockets, and that starts with slowing James Harden, who enters the game with two straight 40-point triple-doubles.
“He’s unusual in the sense that he’s a big, power guard, and he can score, pass, rebound,’’ Thibodeau said. “He pretty much controls their team. It’s unusual when a guy can shoot the way he can, and also draw fouls, and pretty much do a little bit of everything. But they’re a lot more than just him. They’ll shoot 50 threes. We’ll have to make sure we’re challenging shots. There are a lot of long rebounds. They run the floor great. And they put pressure on the rim. It has to be a multiple-effort mentality.''
--The Rockets enter tonight’s game with the third-best record in the NBA. So it’s no surprise that Thibodeau thinks Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni is the easy pick for coach of the year so far.
“Oh, certainly, yeah,’’ Thibodeau said. “The way their team is playing. Mike’s been around a long time. He’s a terrific coach. And you look at the winning. He’s got a style of play. He’s always had that. And then their personnel fits it, too.’’