It's only been five years, that's all.

Almost exactly, by the way. The last time the Timberwolves stood at .500 more than two games into a season, Kevin Garnett was still calling Target Center home and Kevin Love had yet to arrive.

The Wolves beat Houston for the second time in a week, a 100-91 victory Saturday that featured a strong start and a fairly controversial third-quarter play that dialed up an already intense game to the physical extreme.

But the Wolves withstood a late Houston run to improve to 12-12. The Wolves have had a few chances to reach that level lately. Finally, at home, they did it.

"We responded, and we needed to respond," said Love, who scored 25 points and had 18 rebounds. He was referring to the Rockets who, down 16 early in the third quarter, pulled to within three twice in the fourth quarter. The second time came when Kyle Lowry drove the lane to make it 88-85 with 5:16 left.

The response: Nikola Pekovic scored off Love's pass. After Houston's Chandler Parsons missed at the other end, Luke Ridnour (22 points) hit a three in the corner off a pass from J.J. Barea. Coming out of a timeout, the Wolves did enough to keep ahead of the Rockets down the stretch.

"We needed to get up on their shooters and rebound the basketball," Love said. "Ultimately, we got stops."

The Wolves, who entered the game 5-8 at home, got off to a great start, leading by eight after shooting a season-high 68.4 percent in the first quarter. That lead grew to 55-42 at halftime and grew to 16 early in the third quarter.

But then the Rockets got motivated. It came with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the third when Luis Scola (24 points) fell to the floor after a drive towards the hoop. Love stepped on Scola's head and chest with his left foot on his way down the court. At the other end, the Rockets bench was called for a technical, and from then on it was game on.

With the physical play getting more intense, the Rockets started coming back. They got within nine at the end of the third quarter, then within three on Lowry's drive.

But the Wolves, gaining confidence by that time, didn't fold.

Wolves coach Rick Adelman was thrilled with the way the Wolves responded to the physical challenge after not doing so in a loss at home to Indiana two games ago.

"We really talked about that this afternoon," Adelman said. "I think they're staying with it more. They're not hanging their head when someone gets a run on us. We have to play through that. Tonight I was upset in the third quarter, because we seemed to let what happened on the court, the calls, affect our play. ... You can't play that way, and they're starting to learn that. You have to be mentally tough to play through anything."

Rubio finished with 13 points, 11 assists and three steals. Pekovic had 11 points and nine rebounds.

And the Wolves, finally, are a .500 team. The last time they were even this late was after a victory over Phoenix on Jan. 29, 2007. Just as a reference, and as a lesson in perspective: That was two games into Randy Wittman's tenure as interim coach after Dwane Casey had been fired after a 20-20 start.

But enough of the past.

"We were playing so-so at home," Rubio said. "We knew we had to improve, and we did today. We played a pretty good team, and now we have to be ready for the next game."

Because nobody in the locker room was happy with just getting to .500.

"It does feel good," Love said. "But we want to come out and keep this thing going in the right direction."