HOUSTON – Timberwolves rookie forward Andrew Wiggins’ march toward stardom moved onward in Monday’s 113-102 loss at Houston with his third 30-point game and first technical foul of the season.
Both, in their own ways, are signs of progress.
Wiggins’ 30-point night attempted to keep pace with Rockets star James Harden’s 31-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple-double on a night when Harden’s scoring, Houston’s 28-19 third quarter and its 14-2 run near game’s end made all the difference after the Wolves pulled within a point with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left.
Wiggins’ technical late in the third quarter was the first time so far he expressed himself vociferously enough to be reprimanded for it. Before that, he made eight of 19 shots and didn’t shoot a free throw. After that, he went 4-for-5 from the field, 5-for-5 from the free-throw line and scored 14 points of his 30 points in the fourth quarter alone.
“I needed that,” Wiggins said. “I started to get some calls after I did. Before that, I did not get one call until the fourth quarter. I drove into the lane maybe seven times, six of them were fouls, but I’m a rookie so …”
The technical will cost him an automatic $2,000 fine, which was a unique way to celebrate his 20th birthday on Monday.
“At some point, when you keep on getting beat up, you’re going to say something,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He was frustrated. People always ask why players complain. They complain because it works, because in time you will get some calls because of that. It has been that way in this league for ages. Sometimes you have to stick up for yourself and let them know you’re getting fouled. That’s part of maturity. Guys learn that.”
Said point guard Ricky Rubio: If you want to be good in this league, you have to earn respect and sometimes you’ve got to take that step. He cares about the game. He cares about what’s going on and I’m proud of him.”
Waiting for KG
Until Kevin Garnett arrives in the flesh for practice and a press conference on Tuesday, the Wolves played Monday with just three big men Monday. Newly acquired rookie power forward Adreian Payne started an NBA game for the first time, alongside center Nikola Pekovic while Gorgui Dieng came off the bench as both backup center and power forward.
Payne played 29 minutes — nine more than he had all season with Atlanta — and had his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, even if it took him 15 shots from the field to get there.
“He’s got to slow down a bit,” Saunders said. “He can’t go 4-for-15 for us just coming in. He’s got to learn more where to get his shots, learn to move the ball and play at a slower tempo. But I liked his aggressiveness. Defensively, he tried to help out a lot.”
Something in common
Wiggins and Saunders both celebrated birthdays Monday. Saunders turned 60 the same day Wiggins left his teenage years behind.
“I’d rather be 19,” Wiggins said Monday. “I miss it.”
Pekovic had a bluish-green lump underneath his left eye after the game, courtesy of an inadvertent smack to the face by Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas in the first quarter.
“And I got [called for] the foul,” he said.
• The Wolves termed “successful” Shabazz Muhammad’s surgery Monday in Rochester to repair a ruptured ligament in the middle finger of his left shooting hand. The second-year forward will miss the rest of the season.
• Veteran guard Gary Neal limped noticeably Monday on an ankle he sprained in Sunday’s practice and didn’t play Monday. “Bad,” he said when asked about it. “And freak, too: Last play of practice.”
• Former Wolves forward Corey Brewer met his old team for the first time since December’s trade reunited him with Kevin McHale in Houston. “This is what it’s all about,” he said. “This is what you play basketball for: To get to the playoffs and make a run.”
• Rockets star center Dwight Howard missed his 12th consecutive game because of swelling in his right knee. He has not played since a Jan. 23 game at Phoenix. Houston also played without point guard Patrick Beverley, who fell ill.