NBA Basketball

Timberwolves get another shot to beat Rockets

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 17: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots the ball against the San Antonio Spurs on March 17, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.

A week ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves knocked off an elite Western Conference team on their homecourt by asking Karl Anthony-Towns to make the plays down the stretch.

The Timberwolves get another crack at beating an elite conference foe Sunday night when they host the NBA-best Houston Rockets.

Minnesota will be facing Houston on the second night of a back-to-back for both teams. It will do so a week after Towns scored 14 of his 31 in the final 12 minutes of a 109-103 home win over the Golden State Warriors.

Minnesota (40-30) is sixth in the Western Conference but it's a position that changes frequently.

The Timberwolves are 1 1/2 games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose game in Toronto starts six hours before Minnesota faces Houston. Minnesota also is a half-game ahead of eighth-place New Orleans and two in front of Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.

"Everybody is playing like every game means something," Minnesota reserve Jamal Crawford told reporters. "You could see it through the TV (watching the Pelicans-Spurs on Thursday), so I could only imagine what it's like in person. Everybody is playing for something now: Some for No. 1 seed. Some for their playoff lives. Some ending the season with pride."

Towns scored 23 points in a 117-101 loss at San Antonio on Saturday. He is averaging 25.5 points in his last six games and followed up the big plays against Golden State by getting 37 at Washington on Tuesday.

Andrew Wiggins added 21 points Saturday and is averaging 20.1 points in his last six games.

"They're growing," Minnesota Tom Thibodeau told reporters while discussing Towns and Wiggins. "That's the best part about them being young. There's room for a lot of growth the way they're playing."

Minnesota is 4-4 since losing Jimmy Butler to knee surgery on Feb. 24. They took the loss after allowing the Spurs to make 19 straight shots at one point while being unable to stop LaMarcus Aldridge from producing 39 points.

"Yeah, we let that one go, but we have another one tomorrow," Minnesota forward Taj Gibson told reporters. "We can't look back on what we did. These games are coming one right after another. We got a tough one tomorrow against Houston and another tough one with the Clippers two days after that."

The Rockets (55-14) are certainly glad Towns made those plays a week ago as it helped them gain a 2 1/2 game lead on Golden State for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Now they're hoping to contain Towns like they did in the last meeting when Towns shot 6 of 15 in a 120-102 loss at Houston on Feb. 23. Towns is averaging 25 points in the first three meetings, but the Rockets have posted three 18-point victories.

Houston's three wins over Minnesota are part of a 28-3 stretch since Jan. 6. The Rockets also are 21-1 in their last 22 contests after James Harden scored 11 of his 32 points in an otherwise ugly fourth quarter in Saturday's 107-101 win at New Orleans.

The Rockets missed 16 of 22 shots and scored 23 points in the final 12 minutes but Harden helped secure things by hitting a 27-foot 3-pointer with 91 seconds left for a nine-point lead.

"We could have been a little cleaner down the stretch," Rockets guard Chris Paul told reporters after scoring 21 points. "We probably could have executed better, but we'll take the win."

Paul does have a point with his comments. Houston has scored less than 110 points in five straight games and in seven of the last nine.

Still, the Rockets (55-14) have little to complain about. They are three wins shy of matching the club record set by the 1993-94 club, which beat the New York Knicks for the first title in team history.

Including the three wins this season, Houston has won five straight meetings with Minnesota and 17 of the last 19. The Rockets also have scored at least 100 points in the last 16 meetings, with seven games or least 120 points in that span.

Updated March 18, 2018

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