Tonight was a war of attrition. The Rockets were without three starters, Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejūnas. The Timberwolves suited up only eight players for Friday's game. Seven of the eight players are rookies or are in their second year in the NBA, the only Timberwolve with more than two years of experience is former Rocket Chase Budinger (six season). Jason Terry by himself has the same number of years in NBA experience as Minnesota's entire active roster for tonight's game - sixteen.
The fans were deprived of a rematch between Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett after their spat in Brooklyn earlier this season. There would be no games of twister between James Harden and Ricky Rubio without Rubio out of the lineup. No old friend alert with Kevin Martin ridding the pine. But, Houston wasn't deprived of their stars James Harden and Dwight Howard. Both players made their mark on the game earlier and often.
Dwight looked like his old self, posting 18 points, 4 rebounds, and a block in 20 minutes. Howard had a clear effect on the game, opening up the offense for James Harden and protecting the rim. Josh Smith and Harden took turns throwing the big man alley-oops as if he hadn't misses 26 games. Howard completely changed the T-Wolves' plan of attack while on the floor, his plus-minus tonight was plus-20.
James Harden had another MVP-level game, scoring 33 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assist, and 5 steals. The beard knocked down three 3-pointers to start the third quarter to help extend the Rockets lead to 71-57 and keep the Timberwovles out of reach. Tonight was Harden's 31 game with at-least 30 points this season.
Tonight's most-valuable Rocket was Josh Smith, who made his first start since January 2 with Motiejūnas out. He was one rebound short of a triple-double - posting 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 11 assists in 40 minutes played.
Jason Terry stepped up big again in the starting lineup, knocking down five of six three-pointers tonight.
It was great offense night overall for the Rockets, setting season highs in assists (34) and three-pointers made (20).
The Timberwolves didn't go away quietly, scoring 60 points in the second half. The Rockets lackluster defensive efforts at times during this game allowed for that to happen. Case in point, Chase Budinger set a season-high in points with 23 points.
Andrew Wiggins confirmed for me tonight, the Cavaliers chose poorly in trading Wiggins away for Kevin Love. Wiggins blew Trevor Ariza of the dribble and in the post, and blasted Josh Smith with a powerful dunk. Wiggins posted his second 30-point game against the Rockets this season.
With the Rockets win and the Grizzles loss to the Warriors, the two teams are now a half game apart in the standing and tied in the loss column for the second position the Western Conference standings. Houston also clinched their third-straight trip to the playoffs.
The Rockets play their game of a back-to-back in Washington on Sunday, and head north of the border to face the Raptors on Monday.