7 p.m. at Houston • Toyota Center • FSN/ESPN, 830-AM

Final stretch starts with big challenge

Preview: In a virtual tie for third in the Western Conference, the Timberwolves enter the home stretch of the regular season — a 21-game push — that begins against a team that has their number. The Wolves have lost 10 of 11 to Houston, including twice this season by 18 points each time. With MVP candidate James Harden leading the way, the three-point-happy Rockets come out of the break with the NBA’s best record.

Players to watch: Wolves C Karl-Anthony Towns, coming off his first All-Star appearance, scored a season-high 35 points vs. Houston at Target Center Feb. 13. G Jimmy Butler held himself out of the All-Star Game to be ready for the stretch run; he averaged 26.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in the five games before the break. PG Jeff Teague, aggressive of late, averaged 22.5 points, 7.0 assists and shot 66.7 percent in the two games before the break. Harden has scored 27 or more points in six consecutive games. F Ryan Anderson came off the bench to hit six of 10 three-pointers and score 21 points — he and Harden combined for seven of the Rockets’ 10 fourth-quarter three-pointers — in Houston’s victory over Minnesota Feb. 13. F Trevor Ariza appears set to return after missing nine games because of a left hamstring injury.

Numbers: In the two losses to the Rockets, the Wolves have been outscored 117-42 on threes. Houston has hit 39 of 86 from behind the arc in those games (45.3 percent).

Injuries: None.

Kent Youngblood