Rockets-Timberwolves Preview

The depleted Houston Rockets are finding ways to win, and often against Western Conference playoff contenders.

The Minnesota Timberwolves don't fit that description, and are coming off possibly the most deflating loss in the NBA this season.

The teams meet Friday night in Minnesota with the Rockets seeking a sixth win in seven games, while the Timberwolves try to put losing to the league's worst team behind them.

Houston (14-4) handed Memphis just its third loss of the season Wednesday with a 105-96 home victory despite the continued absences of Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones.

Howard has missed seven games with a strained right knee and won't return Friday or Saturday against Phoenix. Neither will Beverley, who has been out five games with a hamstring injury. Jones has lost 14 games due to nerve damage in his left leg, and there's still no timetable for a return.

James Harden scored a game-high 21 points Wednesday, while Tarik Black had 10 and a personal-best 11 rebounds in his seventh straight game starting for Howard.

"It feels great to get the win," Black told the team's official website. "... Just to continue the season with the winning mentality we've been having. In the Western Conference you've got to get these wins, they're important, so it feels good."

The 23-year-old rookie has been joined in the lineup by Donatas Motiejunas, who had 15 points and is emerging as a legitimate scoring threat. The 24-year-old power forward has started 13 of the last 14 games and is averaging 14.8 points over the team's 5-1 stretch.

Harden was 6 of 11 from the floor, marking three straight games with under 15 shots after averaging 20.5 in the first four games without Howard. At 41.0 percent for the season, he's shooting worse than he has since his rookie year, but others have eased his load lately.

"Guys stepped up," Harden said. "Everybody played a role (Wednesday) and contributed to the team in a positive way."

The Timberwolves (4-13) earned the unwanted tag of being the first team to lose to Philadelphia with Wednesday's 85-77 home defeat. It was Minnesota's worst offensive night of the season, shooting 35.7 percent and going 3 for 17 from 3-point range.

Corey Brewer was most upset with the fact that the Timberwolves limited the 76ers to 39.0 percent - their best defensive mark of the season - but still couldn't beat an 0-17 team.

"That's what makes it bad," said Brewer, who was 3 of 11 for seven points. "They play that bad and we still lose? We have to look at ourselves."

Coach Flip Saunders hasn't been getting the production from role players that Houston's Kevin McHale has. Namely, Anthony Bennett drew Saunders' ire for a lack of effort following the loss even though he played less than four minutes. The 2013 No. 1 overall pick scored in double figures in four straight games before falling off in the last three with eight total points.

Brewer has shot 32.3 percent during Minnesota's three-game losing streak, and Andrew Wiggins is at 31.4 over the past five.

"We're not a very good team right now and we've all got to get better," Saunders told the team's official website. "We've got to work with our guys more to get them to do what we need to do."

Gorgui Dieng was the lone bright spot against Philadelphia with 15 points and 16 rebounds, both season bests, as he started an eighth straight game for center Nikola Pekovic (sprained wrist).

The Rockets have won five of six in the series while averaging 113.2 points, including a 113-101 win in Minnesota on Nov. 12.

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