Wolves bust out of funk with 122-95 victory over Rockets

HOUSTON – Even when they won games recently, the Timberwolves never felt like they were the team they were to start the season.

Their defense was lagging, their offense was turnover-prone. That went whether they won or lost, and so the team's first two-game losing streak this week had felt like it was building for a while.

The question in front of the Wolves against the Rockets: how would they respond to this slide as they embark on a four-game road trip?

Just fine, it turned out. But Friday's 122-95 victory didn't feel like the Wolves were lucky just to get by, the way they might have in recent victories over the Mavericks and Lakers. It felt like a much-needed return to form on both ends of the floor.

"There was a couple games like that when we won — the Dallas game at home [Dec. 28] — it tastes a little sour," Rudy Gobert said. "It's a win, but it wasn't who we were, so tonight it tastes good and now we got to keep pounding every day."

Gobert took it upon himself to play better on defense, and on Friday morning coach Chris Finch showed the team some clips of their best defensive sequences as motivation to reach the level that made them the top unit in the league. The Wolves responded by holding their 10th opponent of the season under 100 points.

"I saw our defense," Finch said. "I saw our defense in a lot of different ways. We rebounded the ball real well. We were into it. We were being bothersome. Rudy was back doing his thing at the rim and everybody was out there making some grimy defensive plays."

Houston shot just 40% and committed 15 turnovers while the Wolves shot 52% and had 31 assists, a sign their ball movement was where they wanted it. Anthony Edwards had 24 points and five assists, while Karl-Anthony Towns had one of his best recent performances with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists. That led six Wolves in double figures.

Finch always says Jaden McDaniels is a barometer for the Wolves offense, that when McDaniels is able to put up good numbers offensively, it likely means the Wolves are generating the kind of movement that creates open looks for him. McDaniels had 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

It was the bench that put distance on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. The Wolves led by 12 at the start of the fourth when a four-man bench unit of Naz Reid, who had 16 points, Nickeil Alexander-Walker (11 points, two steals, two blocks), Kyle Anderson and Jordan McLaughlin (along with Towns at first then Gobert) doubled that lead to 24 within the first five minutes.

"It was great. It's something that at that point in the game, you want to put the team away if you can so starters can get rest," Reid said. "You go out there and have an intensity and I always say if you're going into the game you want to push the lead, if not get the lead back, or get the game back in hand. I feel like that was something we did in that six minutes."

Before that, Towns punished a switch-heavy Rockets defense with his ability to score inside while Edwards struck the right balance of hunting his shot early and creating opportunities for others to help the Wolves maintain a double-digit lead throughout the game.

"In the beginning of the game, I'm just getting to the free-throw line, get to the rim, try to impose my will," Edwards said. "Then once they start packing the paint in the second half, they was like, 'Load, load, load,' and I'm just trying to find my teammates and get them the ball. I'm happy with tonight."

BOXSCORE: Wolves 122, Houston 95Sign up for our Timberwolves Update newsletter

That went for himself individually and as a team. The Wolves are in the last stretch of a grueling 16-game portion of the schedule against teams .500 or better with 11 coming on the road. This road trip picks up in Dallas before going to Orlando and Boston. Even without playing their best, the Wolves are now 8-5 during this stretch and will come out of it at least at .500.

But now, instead of whimpering to the end of it, the Wolves appeared rejuvenated.

"That's something we harped on big," Reid said. "That first two-game stretch where we were losing, that's not something we wanted to carry on for the rest of the trip. We started here with a great win."