In desperate need of a win, or anything to reverse their recent trend of suboptimal play, the Rockets were in no position to debate the merits of their victory over Denver on Wednesday.
The Nuggets were missing four key rotation players, including a trio of starters, but the Rockets did not apologize following their 121-105 home victory. Houston had dropped four consecutive games and five of six overall, so any step in the right direction was welcome with a warm embrace.
And now, the Rockets will be charged with taking what they mustered at Toyota Center against the Nuggets on the road, starting on Friday at Target Center against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the opener of a four-game road trip that includes stops in Denver, Utah and Portland.
"Obviously, we need to build on (it)," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We need to get better. Obviously we're always going to make some mistakes, but at least (we) came out from the opening tip and we came out and fought them. They're undermanned too, so we don't want to sit here and sing our praises. They're hurting a little bit and they have a lot of guys out, but it's a start."
The one constant for the Rockets during their recent slump was the stellar play of guard Russell Westbrook, who posted 28 points, a season-high-tying 16 rebounds, eight assists and four steals against Denver. The Rockets remain dependent upon guard James Harden, named an All-Star Game starter on Thursday, but with Westbrook averaging 30 points, 8.9 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game this month, Houston is developing a secondary option capable of carrying their offense.
"He's so versatile, he gets everybody involved," Harden said of Westbrook. "Once he's attacking the rim and doing what he does, everybody's on alert. Guys get open shots, we saw that from Eric (Gordon), we saw that from P.J (Tucker), we saw that from all the guys that made shots, and even Clint (Capela) -- was able to get some finishes around the rim. It's key to what we do."
The Timberwolves are mired in their second extended slump of the season, dropping their seventh consecutive game at Chicago on Wednesday 117-110 to the Bulls. Minnesota lost 11 consecutive games last month, a skid that included seven games without Karl-Anthony Towns.
But Towns returned on Jan. 17 and the losing has continued unabated, despite Towns averaging 26.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists over the subsequent four games. Ahead of only the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference standings, the Timberwolves have struggled to generate any positive momentum following their surprising 10-8 start to the season.
Their problems are myriad. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, the solutions are less plentiful.
"It's a number of things," Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said. "We've been trying to integrate Karl back into (things). Our package is a little bit different offensively. Also, when you get to this point in the season everywhere you go when you see other teams, everybody says the same thing: 'Hey, these are the dog days of the season.'
"But we're not good enough to have that type of mindset so we've got to make sure that we don't fall into that."
--Field Level Media