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Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (44-34) at Houston Rockets (20-58)

Minnesota coach Chris Finch acknowledged that the Timberwolves were a little bit “salty” in advance of their showdown with the Denver Nuggets on Friday, a game that had serious playoff implications.

With that victory in hand, the Timberwolves (44-34) have more winning to do if they hope to avoid the play-in tournament, starting Sunday at the Houston Rockets. They are 2-0 against the Rockets this season.

The Timberwolves entered Friday three games behind the Nuggets for the sixth seed in the Western Conference, the final position that avoids the play-in tournament. Minnesota had dropped four of five games after going 10-1 in its previous 11 contests, seemingly surrendering all the momentum generated in challenging for a playoff berth.

Behind Karl-Anthony Towns’ 32 points and nine rebounds, the Timberwolves closed to within two games of the Nuggets with a 136-130 road victory, one that Towns said required no additional motivation in advance of the opening tip.

Minnesota showcased the requisite grit.

“This is the Timberwolves basketball that I’ve been talking about that we need to play if we expect to beat teams like this,” Towns said.

Instrumental to the win over the Nuggets was a balanced scoring attack, with the Timberwolves’ primary scorers — Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell — all contributing offensively.

Like grit, that triumvirate attack is a required component for success. Edwards had 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Russell added 24 points and converted 10 of 11 free throws.

“Coming into the game I said that I really hoped that our three guys played well,” Finch said. “They all needed a good game and of course, we needed to win, but if they all played well and had a good game and get their confidence back and all played well in the same game against a good opponent that was going to be a big statement for us, and they did that.”

The Rockets (20-58) produced another spirited performance in a loss Friday, seemingly achieving a pair of disparate goals simultaneously.

With their 122-117 setback to the Sacramento Kings, the Rockets have dropped three consecutive games by a combined 11 points — all at home — providing thrills for the partisan crowd while remaining tied with the Orlando Magic for the worst record in the NBA, bolstering their draft positioning in the process.

After shooting the lights out in their 41-point first quarter, the Rockets cooled considerably down the stretch in coughing up what had been a 19-point lead. Houston shot 60.9 percent in the opening period, including making 6 of 11 3-pointers, but was just 7 of 20 in the final quarter. The Kings seized control with a 21-4 run during the fourth, taking advantage of the Rockets’ frigid shooting.

“When it comes down to shot-making it is what it is for a lack of a better term,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “The fight that our group is showing is great. I just wish we could come up with the results.”

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