Wolves lose for third time in 12 games


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Houston Rockets found their
league-leading defense just in time to gain a rare road victory
against one of the best teams in the West.

Yao Ming scored 27 points, Steve Francis added 25 and the
Rockets withstood two last-second shot attempts by Minnesota to
outlast the Timberwolves 112-109 Friday night.

"The last couple games we weren't really able to get it going
or get into a rhythm defensively," said Francis, who scored 14
points in the second half. "Tonight, we just contested harder late
in the game."

"From the beginning of the game we played great offense, but
coach was continually getting on us about our defense," Yao said
through an interpreter.

The Rockets entered the game ranked first in opponent field goal
percentage (.402), but had faltered defensively in losing two
straight. On Friday, they held Minnesota to 40 percent shooting in
the fourth quarter to win for the third time in 16 Western
Conference road games.

"We came into a tough place against a tough team and dug out a
big win for us," said Clarence Weatherspoon, who scored 11 points
and defended Kevin Garnett down the stretch.

Minnesota had a chance to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left,
but Troy Hudson's 3-pointer hit the front of the rim. The
Timberwolves got a second chance with 3.1 seconds left after Adrian
Griffin missed two free throws, but Garnett's straightaway 3-point
attempt was way off.

"We got what we wanted, we just missed the shots," said Sam
Cassell, who had 25 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota. "That's
how the game goes."

"That's playoff basketball," said Timberwolves coach Flip

Neither Hudson nor Garnett got clean looks at the basket as
Rockets' defenders played them tight down the stretch.

"We just didn't want to give them a good look on a three,"
said Weatherspoon, who was all over Garnett on the final shot.

Cuttino Mobley had 18 points and Maurice Taylor added 16 off the
bench for Houston, which had lost two straight overall and four in
a row on the road.

Garnett had 32 points and 18 rebounds and Michael Olowokandi had
12 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota. The Timberwolves lost
for just the third time in 12 games.

"That's another example of how hard the West is and how
competitive it is," Garnett said. "Guys on the bottom of the list
could easily be at the top of the list."

If the playoffs started today, Minnesota would be the second
seed in the Western Conference and host No. 7 Houston. The Rockets
have beaten the Wolves two out of three games this season.

"Once April 18 hits, if this is the team we're matched up
against, we're just going to prepare for them and be ready,"
Francis said.

In the fourth quarter, Francis dunked an alley-oop pass from
Mobley and hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to cap a 17-7 run
and give the Rockets a 101-96 lead with 5:33 left.

Houston held a 108-102 lead with 2:09 remaining before Garnett
scored on a three-point play and Sprewell hit two foul shots to
make it 108-107.

Weatherspoon's jumper extended the lead to 110-107, and his two
free throws made it 112-107 with 44.4 seconds left.

Garnett's bank shot on the next possession made it 112-109, and
Mobley missed a 3-point attempt to set up the dramatic finish.

Minnesota extended its one-point halftime lead to 89-84 by the
end of the third. But despite shooting over 60 percent to that
point, the Wolves could not pull away.

The Rockets made five 3-pointers in the first quarter, including
two each from Francis and Mobley, to jump out to a 36-28 lead. The
Timberwolves scored eight unanswered points at the start of the
second quarter to get back into the game.

Houston made its first 19 free-throw attempts and finished

Francis received a technical foul in the first quarter for
hanging on the rim and he got a second technical, along with
Hudson, for taunting. Because the first technical was not
unsportsmanlike, Francis stayed in the game.

Game notes
Minnesota entered the game ranked first in the league in
field goal percentage (.469) ... Minnesota fell to 18-3 when
scoring at least 100 points. ... Houston had not reached the
100-point mark in its previous 10 games at Target Center. ... The
Rockets had just two fast-break points. ... Houston coach Jeff Van
Gundy talked about Garnett's MVP candidacy before and after the
game: "He's been MVP-caliber the last three or four years," Van
Gundy said. "Last year you could have made a case for him, like
this year."