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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Rockets get bullied in 122-95 loss to Timberwolves

POSTED: January 5, 2024 -- 11:25 p.m. CT

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- The Houston Rockets trailed by as much as 33 points Friday night in a 122-95 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Rockets Head Coach Ime Udoka described Friday's loss as "our poorest game from the standpoint of matching physicality and competitiveness and toughness tonight."

Coach Udoka said bluntly, "I think they bullied us."

The Wolves have held opponents below 100 points a league-best 10 times this season (9-1 mark) after doing so four times in 2022-23. The Rockets averaged 120.9 ppg on 48.8% shooting over the previous 10 games.

Houston forward Jabari Smith Jr sank a three-pointer to start the scoring. Less than two minutes later, Smith sank another 3 for an 8-5 Rockets' lead. The game was tied at 18 at 5:59 of the first on an Alperen Sengun turnaround bank shot.

Minnesota (25-9) outscored Houston 14-6 to finish the quarter. Houston (17-16) never led the rest of the ball game.

Houston trailed by as much as 14 points in the second quarter; however, Jalen Green scored 10 of Houston's 22 second quarter points including a three-point basket to cut Houston's deficit to 10 (56-46) at halftime.

In the previous 2 games versus Detroit and Brooklyn, the Rockets won the third quarter by double-digits. Friday night, the Timberwolves won the third 28-26. Minnesota's largest lead in the third was 17 (84-67) with 1:42 remaining in the quarter.

The Wolves shot 55 fg% (11 for 20) in the third quarter. Houston's shooting percentage wasn't bad (45.5 fg%); but, the Rockets simply could not get enough stops to put a dent in their deficit.

Rockets' rookie Cam Whitmore (3 point basket) and guard Aaron Holiday (driving layup) scored the final 5 points in the third.

The Timberwolves put the Rockets away early in the 4th making 6 of 8 field goal attempts which included 3 for 3 three-pointers. Houston trailed 100-78 with 8 minutes left in the 4th.

The Rockets trailed by 23 with 5:38 left in the game when Coach Udoka took Green, Sengun, and Smith out of the game and put Jock Landale, Amen Thompson and Whitmore into the game. Boban checked into the game 42 seconds later.

<>The Timberwolves outscored the Rockets 60-46 in the paint and outrebounded the Rockets 52-38.

"They were just the more physical team," Jabari Smith said in the locker room after the game.

Smith finished the game with 16 points and 9 rebounds while shooting 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He is averaging 2.0 three-point field goals made on 42.6% shooting over his past 12 games played, up from an average of 1.6 on 35.6% shooting the first 20 games of the season.

Jalen Green led the Rockets with 20 points. Green made 4 of his 8 three-point attempts. He has scored 20+ points in four of the past five games after scoring below 20 in each of the nine games prior.

After the game, Green said, "We weren't giving a lot of effort on defense."

The Rockets have a quick turnaround with a Saturday night home game against the Bucks.

Green was asked how the Rockets can regroup for Saturday's game.

"Go home and rest and forget about what happened," Green remarked.

Jabari Smith added, "Just flush it. Learn from it. Get ready for the next one because if we come out like we did today, the same thing's going to happen tomorrow."


Minnesota shot 42.4% from 3-point range. The Rockets entered tonight ranked first in 3-point defense (opponents: 32.7%) but have allowed the opposition to shoot 40.0% or better in five of the past nine games after that occurred four times the first 24 games. Houston is 16-5 when making more threes than its opponent this season and 1-11 when having as many or fewer.

Alperen Sengun scored 11 of his 19 points in the first quarter. His career-best streak of scoring 20+ ends at seven games. It marked his third streak of at least five games this season after not having a streak longer than two games his first two seasons.

Green has hit 3+ 3FGM in five straight games, tying for the second-longest streak of his career (7 games from 3/25-4/5/22).


The Rockets' next game is Saturday, January 6, at home, against the Milwaukee Bucks. Tip is set for 7 p.m. Central Time.

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