The Timberwolves could have taken the easy way out Tuesday in Houston. They could have rested any number of their top players, such as Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards.
The Wolves were playing on a back-to-back with travel, and perhaps they could have used that as an excuse to rest players, a process some refer to as "tanking," in order to improve their draft lottery odds.
All currently healthy Wolves outside of Malik Beasley were available to play. No one rested as the Wolves beat Houston 114-107.
As coach Chris Finch made clear before the game, the Wolves have been too injured and need to figure out what they have around Towns and Russell more than they need a few extra percentage points to keep their pick in the top three of the lottery or else surrender it to Golden State.
"We told the team and certainly our core, key guys that we weren't going to go into the stretch run here with the mentality of resting anybody unnecessarily because we're trying to establish chemistry, establish identity, establish a rhythm," Finch said. "Take into the offseason a body of work that we can really assess and that's more important than anything else for us right now."
If anyone was worried the Wolves would suddenly morph into one of the best teams in the NBA after beating Utah twice, the Wolves alleviated those fears with an inconsistent game despite the win, which gave them their first three-game winning streak of the season. Finch wasn't complaining about that.
"Tough run of games here, we could've easily had a schedule loss here," Finch said. "But I was proud of the way we found a way to win."
The Wolves, who won their 999th game as a franchise, overcame a five-point fourth-quarter deficit and won without Towns available for the final 2 minutes, 21 seconds after he fouled out. The score was tied 102-102 at the time and the Wolves would score the next eight points.
Jarred Vanderbilt was the key player in that stretch. He came up with a tip-in, a steal that led to a D'Angelo Russell bucket, a dunk and another steal to seal the game. He finished with eight points, seven rebounds and three steals.
"The process is right," Vanderbilt said. "I like the direction this team is going in, going out there and we're competing every night. We're gaining chemistry. Even though we're not in playoff contention this year, it's bigger than that. We're fighting for next year."
That's been the organizational mantra the second half of the season, lottery pingpong balls be darned. Along those lines, the Wolves improved to 9-6 when Towns and Russell share the floor. The Wolves wanted to see what they looked like with both players healthy, and now they're finally getting a glimpse.
"We haven't played all of us together in a long time, and I think we're just jelling right now," said Juancho Hernangomez, who had 22 points off the bench.
Towns had 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists and led the Wolves back from an 85-82 deficit with an 8-0 run. He helped them push it to 98-89 before Houston made one last run, a 9-0 spurt that tied the score before Towns fouled out.
On another day, the Wolves might have folded and helped out those lottery odds. They hope they've put those days behind them.
• After the game, Towns, Edwards and Josh Okogie met with some of George Floyd's family members, the team said. They presented the Floyds with a game ball they dedicated to Floyd after a recent win over Sacramento along with a Wolves Floyd jersey.
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.