MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Scorers such as Kevin Martin dream about nights against a “defense” like the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Wolves have a hard enough time guarding spot-up shooters on the perimeter. When they’re facing a guy who can blow by them on the way to the rim and also get a 3-pointer off in the blink of an eye, they don’t stand a chance.
Martin scored 34 points and Shane Battier added a season-high 19 to lead the Houston Rockets to a 129-125 victory over the Timberwolves on Monday night.
“We made it interesting, that’s what we do as a team,” said Martin, who topped 30 points for the third time in five games. “There’s no easy win for us, ever. We fought with it, stayed with it, fought through a rough stretch and came out with a win.”
Luis Scola added 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Rockets, who beat a Western Conference team for the first time in their last eight tries. Houston’s 13 straight wins over Minnesota tie the franchise record for longest winning streak against one opponent.
Kevin Love had 24 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists and Wes Johnson added 19 points for the Timberwolves, who lost their fourth straight overall.
The Rockets made 14 3-pointers, feasting on the tumbling Timberwolves’ awful defense. Minnesota entered the night last in the NBA in points allowed and then watched Houston hang 100 in the first three quarters.
Chase Budinger scored 12 points off the bench, including a four-point play with less than 9 minutes to play that gave Houston a 19-point lead.
The Rockets relaxed, allowing the Wolves to pull within three late in the game. But they closed it out at the free throw line in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
“We’re not anywhere close to where we should be,” Love said of the team’s defense. “It’s something we need to figure out.”
Minnesota had four days to prepare for the game, yet came out of the gate looking as though it was playing its third game in four nights.
After shooting 39 percent in a home loss to Orlando on Saturday, Houston scored a season-high 39 points in the first quarter in Minnesota, hitting six 3-pointers and using superior ball movement with 12 assists on 13 made baskets.
Martin made all three of his 3s and also got the Wolves’ best defender, Corey Brewer, in foul trouble with two quick ones in the first 4 minutes. The slick shooter poured in 16 points in the first quarter, but the going got a little tougher after that.
“He’s such a difficult player in this league to guard because of all the things that he can do,” Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said. “These are the types of players we have to figure out how to defend.”
Martin scored just three points in the second, and the Timberwolves pulled within 65-63 at the break.
The Rockets grabbed control of the game with a 17-2 run midway through the third quarter that gave them a 93-74 lead, and the Wolves didn’t cut it to single digits until late in the game.
“Coach challenged us at halftime and said we need to make some defensive stops, and I think our guys took pride in that,” Martin said. “It helped us. It’s a good thing we did because of the way the fourth quarter went it’s another game we could have lost.”
Rambis has maintained all along that his team has shown dramatic improvement from the start of the season, but there just aren’t any wins to support that theory. The Wolves (10-34) have lost nine of their last 10 games, five of which have come by double digits.
Aaron Brooks scored 15 points and Chuck Hayes chipped in nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Houston.
“We have to find a way to get stops,” Rambis said. “We can’t allow a team to score that many points a quarter and expect to win ballgames.”
NOTES: Tempers flared late when Brooks threw the ball off Love in anger after taking an inadvertent shot to the face. He was given a technical foul. … The Timberwolves have hired former Philadelphia and Washington coach Jim Lynam as a consultant to help evaluate the team. … Martin, an 89 percent free throw shooter, missed five free throws.
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