Perhaps lost in the din of Houston guard Russell Westbrook returning to Oklahoma City on Thursday night was the Rockets’ third consecutive loss in the second game of a back-to-back.
For Houston, which features the third-oldest roster in the NBA, mustering the energy to fashion competitive performances in both games of a back-to-back series presents a specific challenge. The Rockets were flat early and throughout their 113-92 loss to the Thunder, with their lagging down the stretch of their narrow win in Atlanta on Wednesday yielding a preview of what was to come.
Another quick turnaround is on hand for the Rockets, who will host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday afternoon at Toyota Center. Having finally achieved optimal health recently, the Rockets were without guard Eric Gordon (knee) against the Thunder and could be without center Clint Capela against Minnesota, with Capela still battling a troublesome heel injury.
The Rockets had four days between their home win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 3 and their 122-115 victory against the Hawks. But instead of looking refreshed, they’ve labored a bit.
“Sure, we could blame it on that, but it doesn’t change anything,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We didn’t play well, and we’ve got a game on Saturday at 4 o’clock. This is the tough part of the schedule. We’ve got a couple guys banged up a little bit, but we’ll be alright. We’ll get through it. It’s part of the NBA, it’s part of the wars, and we’ll have to work through it.”
Despite missing their best player, the Timberwolves appear to have steered out of their recent nosedive, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 116-102 on Thursday for their fifth win in eight games. Minnesota was in the throes of an 11-game skid when center Karl-Anthony Towns was lost to left knee soreness. Instead of cratering, the Timberwolves suddenly appear revitalized.
The Timberwolves have made some strides defensively, thanks to more assertive starts to games. But without Towns, who missed his 12th consecutive game on Thursday (more than twice as many games that he missed over his first four seasons combined), Minnesota has been forced to rely more on forward Andrew Wiggins. Against Portland, Wiggins delivered an effort reminiscent to his performances from earlier this season, posting 23 points and eight assists.
Wiggins averaged 25.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists over his first 11 games before missing three games for personal reasons. He scuffled attempting to reclaim that stride, but his showing against the Trail Blazers offered a glimpse that he can again shoulder a heavier load.
“Obviously as a coach, that’s what you hope,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said of Wiggins. “And there have been things that are out of his, out of our control. But we’ve got to make sure that we weather those. And we don’t want to look at those as things that maybe made us take any types of steps back. We want to look at those as situations where we were able to learn about other guys and learn about ourselves. And you do that through adversity.”
Growth often comes in fits and spurts, both individually and collectively. The Timberwolves, until they get Towns back, expect in the interim to maintain the momentum they have shown of late.
“We want to stay true to our growth mindset,” Saunders said.
The Rockets won the first contest between the two teams, 125-105, in Minneapolis on Nov. 16.
–Field Level Media