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PREVIEW: New-look Houston Rockets visit reeling Minnesota Timberwolves

Mar 24, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard John Wall (1) dribbles the ball as Charlotte Hornets guard Malik Monk (1) defends during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard John Wall (1) dribbles the ball as Charlotte Hornets guard Malik Monk (1) defends during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets on Thursday traded guard Victor Oladipo to the Miami Heat, concluding a fruitless 20-game relationship that exemplified what has been a lost year for the franchise entering Friday’s game against the host Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis.

Oladipo averaged 21.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists with the Rockets following his acquisition from the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 13 as part of the blockbuster, four-team trade that sent perennial All-Star James Harden from Houston to Brooklyn. With John Wall and Christian Wood in the fold, the Rockets were optimistic that Oladipo would keep the team in playoff contention, which in turn might set the stage for his agreeing to a future contract extension.

Instead, Oladipo turned down a two-year offer from the Rockets who, with Wood sidelined 17 games with an ankle injury, collapsed. Houston will face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday at Target Center in a matchup between teams with the worst marks in the Western Conference.

Houston netted Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk, plus a swap of first-round picks, in a deal that’s been universally panned throughout the league. Olynyk is on an expiring contract while Bradley, who has played just 10 games, has a team option for next season, one the Rockets will surely reject.

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In their final game with Oladipo on their roster, albeit with him unavailable with a trade expected, the Rockets suffered a 122-97 loss to the Charlotte Hornets to cap a 1-6 homestand. On the heels of a win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday, a triumph that snapped a franchise-record 20-game losing skid, Houston cratered in the third quarter under a barrage of 3-pointers.

During the onslaught, Wall clashed with teammate Danuel House Jr., the latest sign of fraying. He was benched earlier than usual in the third quarter following the altercation. Afterward, Wall declined comment, another uncomfortable moment for a team that has endured previous bouts of discord involving Harden, DeMarcus Cousins and P.J. Tucker, all of whom have been moved.

“NBA stuff. Frustration,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

The Timberwolves are the lone team in the league with fewer wins than Houston. They have already fired their coach, Ryan Saunders, and have dropped three straight games and five of seven.

Minnesota had aimed to build its core around center Karl-Anthony Towns and guards D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards, but Towns has missed 20 games, Russell has played in only 20 and is currently sidelined. When things go sideways as they did in a 128-108 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, the Timberwolves are often left aimlessly looking for answers.

“Every time we’ve done that this year it’s always hurt us really bad, especially in games like (Wednesday),” Towns said. “When things start going bad you’ve got to be like the San Antonio Spurs: just stay consistent and continue doing the game plan, continue following to the end.

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“Just diving deeper than just hanging our heads, I think we start to get away from ourselves. We start trying to save the game and each other, but really we just have to come together and trust each other to come back.”

–Field Level Media