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Rockets edge Timberwolves in overtime

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MINNEAPOLIS — Despite a depleted roster, the Houston Rockets continue to find ways to win games and maintain their position near the top of the Western Conference standings.

Keeping their recent hot streak going on Friday night against the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves proved to not be as easy it once looked like it would be.

Nick Johnson’s layup with less than one second remaining in overtime helped the Rockets stave off a late-game surge from Timberwolves (4-14) in a 114-112 defeat.

Minnesota, thanks in part to 10 fourth quarter points from Zach LaVine, came back from down 13 points to capture a four-point lead with less than a minute remaining. Houston was still able to force overtime and ultimately fended the Timberwolves off in the extra session.

“We couldn’t get a rebound, we’re turning it over, feeding their break, and it was a crazy game,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of his team’s fourth quarter performance. “We found a way to win. They out-hustled us. I thought they had more piss and vinegar than we did, but we found a way to win.”

Houston has won six of its last seven games, the majority of which have come with starters Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones all sidelined with injuries.

James Harden once again took command of Rockets with a season-high 38 points, but Houston was on the verge of letting the game slip away when he fouled out in the final two minutes of regulation. Jason Terry helped pick up the slack by scoring 12 of his season-high 19 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“It’s tough to foul out, but the way those guys responded is tremendous,” Harden said. They came up with some big buckets and made a game out of it. It just shows how much adversity we’ve been through so far this season. We’ve had to fight through injuries. This is a big step for us.”

Two nights after a derailing loss to the then-winless 76ers, the struggling Timberwolves showcased a renewed energy level they have been sorely lacking as of late, but it was still not enough to pull off an upset.

Shabazz Muhammad notched a team-leading 20 points off the bench and veteran forward Thaddeus Young had 19 in the Minnesota’s’ seventh loss in eight games.

Houston’s Dontas Motiejunas tied the game at 105-105 with 15 seconds to go in regulation. Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger had a look at the potential game-winning shot, but his miss sent the game into overtime. Once in overtime, Minnesota couldn’t recapture its momentum from the fourth quarter.

The Timberwolves took solace in battling back against one of the league’s top teams, but the loss still left a notable sting.

“We played hard,” Young said. “We went out there and did exactly what we were supposed to as a team and we played aggressive. The biggest thing is we just have spurts where we’re not making shots.”

Houston got rolling early on, going five minutes before their first missed basket. The Rockets ended up shooting 71.4 percent from the floor in the first quarter, including five 3-pointers.

Minnesota couldn’t match Houston’s hot start, but still managed to keep the deficit to 33-24 heading into the second quarter. Young opened with 10 of the Timberwolves’ first 19 points.

The Timberwolves, however, quickly reversed the momentum. As Houston started to cool off early in the second quarter, the Timberwolves mounted a 19-5 run to go up by as many as seven points.

Harden almost single-handily kept Houston afloat by scoring 16 straight points in the second quarter, but Minnesota clung to a 57-55 halftime lead.

The Timberwolves scored only four points in the first six minutes of the third quarter, which allowed Houston to reclaim momentum until Minnesota’s furious fourth quarter rally.

Houston forward Trevor Ariza finished the night with 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds.

LaVine ended up with 17 points for the Timberwolves, while Gorgui Dieng and Corey Brewer added 15 apiece.

NOTES: Rockets C Dwight Howard missed his eighth straight game with a strained right knee. Howard is also expected to sit out Saturday when Houston returns to home to face Phoenix. … G Patrick Beverley, who has missed six games with a strained hip, could be back in Houston’s lineup Saturday against Phoenix, but the Rockets have indicated that it is more likely that Beverley will be ready to return Wednesday at Golden State. … Injured G Kevin Martin rejoined the Timberwolves on Thursday for the first time since undergoing surgery on his fractured right wrist on Nov. 25, but he is still expected to remain sidelined until January. ? Timberwolves G Mo Williams sat out Friday against the Rockets due to a back injury he has been battling since Sunday. Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said Friday Williams would not be traveling with the team to San Antonio for Saturday’s game.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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