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Harden, Rockets take down Timberwolves

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HOUSTON — James Harden cracked a wry smile when asked to recall the huddle exchange between his teammates and Houston coach Kevin McHale, whose fury was obvious when he called a timeout early in the second quarter with the Rockets scuffling along.

The star guard insisted that he suggested McHale calm down, that he and his teammates would reverse course and handle their business. And, true to his word, Harden did exactly that in sparking a rousing rally.

Harden rebounded from a sluggish first quarter with an eruptive second quarter, pacing a 20-point turnaround and a 129-106 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night at the Toyota Center.

Harden finished with 28 points and eight assists as the Rockets (46-22) extended their home winning streak to 10 games. He committed four turnovers in the first quarter while missing two of his three shots from the field. Once the second quarter commenced, Harden performed ably.

“It was mostly my fault as far as turning the ball over,” Harden said. “I was trying to control the basketball, make the right plays, the easy plays and knock down some shots. I had to focus and make the right plays and not do too much.

“That was the main key: slow down and make the right play.”

Minnesota (34-33) outscored Houston 33-27 in the first quarter, but the Rockets won each of the final three quarters.

With the Timberwolves leading 41-31, Harden scored 10 points during a 17-0 Houston run. He added two free throws that pushed the lead to 59-50 with 2:16 left in the half before burying a 3-pointer for a 64-54 lead at the break. Harden scored 17 points in the second quarter.

The Rockets led by as many as 29 points. Houston cruised to victory despite exceptional performances from Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (29 points on 10-of-19 shooting) and center Gorgui Dieng, who posted his third consecutive double-double with career highs in points (22) and rebounds (21) while subbing for Nikola Pekovic (right ankle).

Minnesota forward Corey Brewer failed to score, and the starting backcourt of Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio combined for only 11 points.

“G (Dieng) played awesome,” Love said. “But, some of us just didn’t have it, and that’s the way it goes sometimes. We came off an overtime game (in Dallas on Wednesday night), and we just didn’t seem to have energy.”

Rockets forward Chandler Parsons added 19 points and nine rebounds, and guard Patrick Beverley scored 11 of his 14 points in the first quarter. Forward Donatas Motiejunas (career-high 20 points, six boards) and guard Jeremy Lin (11 points, 10 assists) keyed the bench.

Minnesota took advantage of seven first-quarter Rockets turnovers to jump in front. The Timberwolves outworked Houston on the glass and for loose balls, prompting McHale to frustratingly signal for a timeout after Minnesota capped a 14-4 run.

“We weren’t playing very well, so we got into them a little bit,” McHale said. “We didn’t have good ball movement, didn’t have good energy. We were kind of content to score 27 points in the first quarter and seemed content to give up 33. The guys really brought their energy after that.”

After shooting a season-best 58.2 percent from the field in their 124-86 demolition of the Utah Jazz on Monday night, the Rockets shot 57.6 percent against Minnesota. Houston committed just eight turnovers after its sloppy first quarter, turning superior ball security into an easy triumph.

“We weren’t scoring at all, and we weren’t getting back and they seemed to have their way: a lot of fast-break points and 3s,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “Tonight Houston just beat us, and we didn’t have enough.”

NOTES: In addition to a league-leading 53 scoring-rebounding double-doubles, Timberwolves F Kevin Love is becoming a solid passer. His 4.2 assists per game are more than double his previous career average. “When you grew up, it was Wes Unseld, Bill Walton — those guys were elite at it,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of Love’s ability to make outlet passes. “He’s not afraid to throw it. It’s definitely a home run play, and he connects on a lot of them.” … Rockets C Dwight Howard missed his second consecutive game after having a portion of a cyst removed from his left ankle, which was also drained Tuesday. … As part of his third career triple-double at Dallas on Wednesday night, Timberwolves G Ricky Rubio scored 20-plus points for just the third time this season. “He made a variety of shots going to the basket,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “He’s got to learn how to get shots off when he goes into that area because when the big guys are there, he’s got to learn how to get over them.”

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