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T-wolves try to break up-and-down cycle against Rockets

Jan 4, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert (27) looks on during the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Erratic play has defined the first half of the season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, whose current three-game winning streak is their third of the season of at least three contests.

The Timberwolves have also recorded five losing skids of at least three games, an indication of just how elusive consistency has been for the team.

However, Minnesota may have unlocked something significant in its 128-115 home win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, a victory that preceded a quick two-game road trip that starts on Sunday against the Houston Rockets.

Minnesota center Rudy Gobert posted his third career 20-point, 20-rebound game in the victory by pairing a season-high-tying 25 points with 21 rebounds. The Timberwolves initially struggled with spacing after the offseason acquisition of Gobert from Utah, then labored to find successful lineups once they lost three-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns to a calf injury in late November.

The offensive cohesion against the Clippers might have offered a glimpse of what’s to come.

“Some of the (Clippers) lineups that were out there were a little bit smaller so it was a good target over top,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said of the 7-foot Gobert. “I thought guys did a good job of having their head up and looking for him, whether it be on the roll or the drive and the lob. Yeah, I think some of it is just reps.

“Ball movement is better right now so everything has a little more space and that space allows you to see what’s going on.”

Gobert credited guard D’Angelo Russell and swingman Kyle Anderson for helping him enjoy the breakout performance. Russell and Anderson combined for 10 of the Timberwolves’ 28 assists.

“Those guys are really, really smart players,” Gobert said. “They see everything on the floor. I just try to make it easy for them and make myself available.”

With the Rockets and Detroit Pistons on deck, the Timberwolves will face two of the worst teams in the league with a chance to climb back to .500 while passing the midpoint of the schedule. Doing so would mark modest progress for a team in search of something positive to build upon.

“We’ve rebounded a little bit better,” Finch said. “Our perimeter defense has been a lot better, shot contest has been a lot better. Our pursuit, physicality, all that stuff. I think we’re getting a little bit better in every area.”

The Rockets have dropped 11 of 12 games and eight consecutive at home. While positive developments have been more difficult to come by in Houston, the Rockets did welcome back forward Jae’Sean Tate to their rotation in a 131-114 home loss to the Jazz on Thursday.

Tate had missed 35 games with an ankle injury. His return should provide the Rockets additional ballhandling and another option to orchestrate their offense beyond guard Kevin Porter Jr., who entering Saturday is tied with Warriors guard Jordan Poole with a league-high 138 turnovers.

“It’ll help in a bunch of different ways,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said of having Tate, who had 11 points and two assists against the Jazz, back in the fold. “It will help to have someone out there who can handle the ball with know-how. It’ll help with the ballhandling with having someone who is so selfless with the way that he plays. It helps other guys play well.”

–Field Level Media