Timberwolves hope home court changes things against Rockets
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Timberwolves clinched their first playoff berth in 14 years with a win against Denver in the regular-season finale, the home crowd at Target Center erupted in jubilation as the drought ended.
Minnesota went on the road to Houston and lost the first two games of the first-round series. The Timberwolves and their fans hope a return home can get them back in the series.
The Rockets come to Minnesota on Saturday with a 2-0 lead after Wednesday's dominating 102-82 victory, leaving the Timberwolves wondering how to make their mark and hoping they can get a boost from the home crowd.
"It feels good," Minnesota forward Andrew Wiggins told the Minneapolis Star Tribune about returning home. "Houston took care of business up there and now we've got to do the same up here. I know the fans will be excited, the atmosphere will be crazy and the whole team, we're confident. We're ready."
Wiggins believes -- maybe hopes -- the fans will be as involved as they were during the season finale. The Wolves missed the playoffs for 13 straight seasons before this year. The last home playoff game was in the 2004 Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"I think it'll be crazy, kind of like the Denver game," Wiggins told the Star Tribune. "Fans were just screaming and into the game the whole time. We're home. The fans will be into it. I'm excited. I know the guys are too."
Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau knows a lot is on the line on Saturday.
"You're trying to erase 14 years of losing," Thibodeau told the Star Tribune. "It's not an easy thing to do. This team has fought like crazy all year. We were basically a three-seed when Jimmy (Butler) went down. We finished a game out of the fourth spot. I'm proud of what they've done and now our challenge is to win this next game."
It won't be easy against Houston.
The Rockets only shot 36.5 percent from the field in Game 2 and James Harden was limited to 12 points in 30:46. Yet, Houston won by 20 after squeaking by with a three-point win in Game 1.
"We haven't played very well so far," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni told the Houston Chronicle. "It'll be crazy up there. They haven't been in the playoffs for a long time. It will be a very loud crowd. We have to do our part, play defense and take the crowd out of it. We have to be ready for all they got. Whatever they have left, we're going to get it full throttle right when we get on the floor to start the game."
Minnesota actually was the aggressor early in Game 2, leading after the first quarter. But the Wolves shot 38.8 percent from the field. All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns finished with just five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Butler had 11 points, while Wiggins scored 13.
The Wolves were one of the league's best teams at home with a 30-11 record, but they lost all four games in the regular season to Houston, including twice at Target Center.
"They have a really good team at home," Harden told the Chronicle. "Nothing's changed for us. We've been a pretty good road team all year. Go out there, execute, limit our turnovers ... and just make it tough, make it tough for every guy on their team. We haven't shot the ball well yet. Knock down some shots, and we'll be good."
Minnesota is looking to possibly change its approach. Point guard Jeff Teague has been outspoken at times this year and said the key on Saturday will be playing up tempo to get the crowd in the game.
"What we've been playing like hasn't worked," Teague told the Star Tribune. "We lost both games, and we played a slow pace. I think we played right into their hands. Last time we played them here at home (in March), we got out in the second half and picked up the pace and made it a closer game. That's the only way we can play to be successful against this team."
Updated April 21, 2018