Already done with their season series against Phoenix for almost a month now, the Timberwolves play a second-place Houston team they’re trailing in the Western Conference for the first time this season Thursday.
The Rockets will play on without forwards Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green in an 8:30 p.m. TNT game after the NBA suspended both players two games Wednesday for entering the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room seeking a confrontation after Houston’s loss at Staples Center on Monday night.
The league announced the suspensions after what it called an investigation that included more than 20 interviews with executives, staff, coaches, players from both teams and arena personnel.
That investigation concluded that Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul followed Ariza and Green into a corridor outside the locker room in an attempt to “defuse the situation and, accordingly, discipline is not warranted,” according to an NBA report that announced the suspensions.
Paul and Harden are available to play Thursday against a Wolves team that lost Tuesday 108-102 to Orlando, which until then had won just once since Dec. 6.
That loss dropped the Wolves to fourth place in the Western Conference, a half-game behind third-place San Antonio and three games behind the second-place Rockets.
Harden has missed the past seven games because of a hamstring strain, but he practiced Wednesday and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters Harden probably will play, restricted to 24 or 25 minutes of action if there are no issues after that practice.
The Rockets listed Harden as questionable on their Wednesday injury update.
The NBA’s report said Ariza and Green entered the Clippers’ locker room immediately after the game and engaged in a “hostile, verbal altercation” with several Clippers players.
Ariza and Green also won’t play Saturday against Golden State.
When asked about the Rockets’ postgame incident in Los Angeles, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said, “The game is emotional. You have to do the right things. We just worry about us…I’m sure the league will do the right thing.”
A step back
Wolves star Jimmy Butler spoke out after his team’s loss Tuesday night, saying his team needs to “humble” itself because it hasn’t accomplished yet.
He was asked if winning a game like Tuesday’s is the next step in maturity for a Wolves team that had won 12 of the past 15 games before that.
“We’ve got a lot of steps to get where we want to get to,” Butler said. “We just didn’t play well. You can chalk it up to that. On nights you don’t play well, you’ve got to rebound the basketball, you’ve got to guard, all things Thibs always is telling us to do. At the end of the day, we didn’t do any of that and you saw the outcome of the game.”
Do the right thing
The NBA didn’t announce any suspensions or fines for Tuesday night’s altercations in Orlando, where Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica and Magic guard Arron Afflalo were both ejected after Afflalo threw a dangerous roundhouse right punch that didn’t connect. Bjelica put Afflalo in a headlock that kept Afflalo from throwing another such punch.
Both players received a disqualifying second technical fouls after each drew one in an altercation together four minutes earlier in the second quarter.
“I don’t want to make like he’s a bad guy, maybe he had a bad day,” Bjelica said after the game. “I just want to say I think I did the right thing. What do you want me to do? Let him punch me one more time?”