MINNEAPOLIS — Less than a month after one of their worst losses of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves faced the same situation against the same opponent. This time, the outcome was much different.
Andrew Wiggins scored 28 points, Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and 18 rebounds, and Shabazz Muhammad scored 20 Wednesday night to help the Timberwolves beat the Houston Rockets 119-105.
James Harden scored 33 points and had 12 assists for Houston, which saw its nine-game winning streak end.
The Rockets also carried a nine-game winning streak into Minneapolis on Dec. 17. Minnesota appeared to be poised to snap it, leading by 12 with two minutes to play. But Houston closed on a 14-2 run to force overtime and ended up winning 111-109.
On Wednesday, the Timberwolves entered the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead and immediately stretched it to 20. The Rockets didn’t get closer than 12 the rest of the way.
"Losing a 12-point lead in two minutes, I didn’t think it could be possible but (we) did," said Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio. "Tonight we learned our lesson. We kept attacking and especially attacked on defence."
Rubio tied his own franchise record with 17 assists to go with 10 points. He found Brandon Rush open in the corner for four big 3-pointers and keyed Minnesota’s transition game, springing Muhammad for two huge dunks in the third quarter after Houston had taken a 69-68 lead.
Meanwhile, the Rockets showed signs of fatigue after playing their fifth game in seven nights. The team with the most 3-pointers in the NBA ended the first quarter 0-for-7 from beyond the arc and came up empty on multiple open looks all night.
"We missed a lot of uncharacteristic shots," Rockets forward Ryan Anderson said. "We normally get stops and it fuels our offence on the other side, but you know, they did a great job of being aggressive on us."
Wiggins scored 15 in the first quarter as the game followed a familiar script, with Minnesota taking a double-digit lead before seeing it disappear. Nene hit a 30-footer at the halftime buzzer to pull Houston to with 55-54 at the break.
The teams traded the lead until Anderson’s 3-pointer put the Rockets on top 69-68 midway through the third quarter. But after a Minnesota timeout, the Wolves followed with a 17-4 run capped by a thunderous dunk by Towns.
Minnesota’s bench provided 36 points on the night, including eight straight to start the fourth quarter, six of them from Nemanja Bjelica.
"That took a lot of pressure off the starters," Wiggins said. "They did their job, it was time for us to come in and close it out, and that’s what we did."
Rockets: The Rockets played without guard Eric Gordon, who missed his second straight game with a sprained toe. . Anderson hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished 5 of 14 from beyond the arc. He entered the game shooting 41 per cent on 3-pointers.
Timberwolves: Zach LaVine missed the game with a left hip contusion. He was injured in Monday’s game against Dallas. . Rush started in his place and chipped in 12 points, three assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. … Rubio passed Sam Mitchell to move into fourth place on the team’s career games played list with 292. . Towns had his 29th double-double of the season, third-best in the league. . Minnesota won consecutive games for just the second time all season. . Rubio had 32 assists in the last two games, the most he’s had in any two-game span in his career.
Muhammad continued his hot scoring of late, reaching double figures for the seventh time in his last nine games. He’s mostly known for his energetic dunks in the transition game, but he hit 2 of 3 3-pointers on Wednesday, including a dagger from the corner that pushed Minnesota’s lead to 15 with less than two minutes to play and sent Houston’s starters to the bench for good.
"I’ve been really working on my 3 and it’s really been paying off," said Muhammad, who’s just 21-for-53 from beyond the arc this year. "I just have that confidence in it now where every single time I think it’s going to go in."
HARD TO HANDLE
Harden continues to post eye-popping numbers as he asserts himself as one of the NBA’s most dominant offensive players. On Wednesday he posted his third straight game with at least 30 points and 10 assists. It’s the third time this year he’s put together such a streak. Russell Westbrook (Nov. 18-22) is the only other player in the league to have done that this year.
"He’s tough because he does everything," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You’re not going to be able to stop a guy like that. You have to make him work, and I thought our guys did that."
Rockets: Houston returns home to face the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday before hitting the road again for its next two games.
Timberwolves: Oklahoma City visits Minneapolis on Friday night as the Wolves wrap up a three-game home stand.