With Ricky Rubio sidelined indefinitely, the Timberwolves lost their third straight game Wednesday night. The final score was 113-101.
The contest was technically listed as a home game for Minnesota but was played in Mexico City. The Wolves held their own against the Rockets during the first half, but in the end the young squad could not matchup against Dwight Howard and James Harden who led Houston with 22 and 23 points, respectively. Corey Brewer came off the bench to lead Minnesota with 18 points, followed by rookie Andrew Wiggins with 15.
The teams’ stat lines actually line up fairly evenly. The Rockets scored a little higher from the floor, 48 percent to the Wolves’ 44 percent, but the number of rebounds, assists and turnovers were almost identical. The area where Minnesota was entirely outdone, however, was the three-point line. Houston landed an impressive 13 shots from downtown, while the Timberwolves made only six. Rockets reserves Jason Terry and Kostas Papanikolaou were 100 percent with their three-point shots, and Papanikolaou scored a career-high 14 points.
Houston and Minnesota battled back and forth for two quarters, matching most shots and pacing each other well. At halftime, the Wolves fell short just slightly in the 53-49 score. So far this season, the third quarter has proved the most electric for the Wolves. On Wednesday, however, the tables were turned as Houston pulled away after halftime. The Rockets outscored Minny 31-21, and their entire lineup seemed to be scoring. Howard, who had been sick earlier in the season, gave the Mexico City fans exactly what they had been looking for. Howard said the following after the game:
“It’s a big honor to play in Mexico. We had an amazing time even though it was a super short trip. The last time we lost so I wanted to come back with a better effort. I’ve always wanted to come to Mexico. The fans were great. They were standing and cheering from warm-ups until the end … I wish I could play all of our games here in Mexico.”
Head coach Flip Saunders implemented a large lineup in the fourth quarter—Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Robbie Hummel, and Ronny Turiaf all seeing some minutes—in an attempt to stave off their opponent. The plan was short-sightedly successful, as the Wolves scored 31 points in the final quarter, but ultimately it was not enough to grab the win.
Despite the tough loss, there were several positive takeaways from the game.
Brewer, who notched his 51-point game against the Rockets in April, came out strong again. The 28-year-old went 7-for-7, grabbing his 18 points in only 24 minutes on the floor and adding four rebounds and a steal. Wiggins continues to grow more and more comfortable on an NBA court, and excitement surrounding the 19-year-old will only continue to grow.
Since losing Rubio to a severely sprained ankle on Friday, rookie Zach LaVine has been called up. LaVine entered this season with the most skepticism from critics, as he appears to be the most raw of the young players. It stands to be reasoned that he would not have seen much playing time had Rubio not been injured, but he has taken the responsibility well. In two games starting at point guard, LaVine has tallied 13 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds.
“I got [the confidence] from my dad,” LaVine told CBS Sports’ Zach Harper. “My dad was a professional athlete so he instilled that in me. All the greats are really, not to say cocky, but confident. I want to be great, so I guess I have that mindset.”
Saunders commented on LaVine’s preparedness after Rubio suffered the sprain:
“Zach is part of what our future is. There is no better time to let him go out and sometimes it’s easier to put a guy in that situation on the road because he doesn’t have the pressure of the home crowd and everyone else expecting him to do a lot. He was going to be with our main guys. I thought that was better than him coming in with the second unit where he might have thought he had to do too much.”
LaVine and the rest of the squad will have to continue learning, and fans hope they can break in a few more wins soon. Minnesota has two more stops on its three-week road trip: New Orleans on Friday (7:00 tipoff) and Dallas on Saturday (7:30 tipoff). The Wolves will then enjoy some time off before returning to the Target Center to welcome the Knicks on Wednesday, Nov. 19.