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Rockets, Timberwolves strive for success before All-Star break

MINNEAPOLIS -- The late timing of this year's All-Star break likely has most teams looking forward to a few days off to relax and recuperate.

The Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are two of the top-four teams in the Western Conference with two games left before the break. Neither wants to let their "first half" success slip right before vacation.

Houston travels to Minnesota for the first game of a back-to-back on Tuesday. The Rockets (42-13) follow with a home game against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

"We have too much at stake," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni told the Houston Chronicle. "I don't think it's even in their DNA to (coast into the break)."

The Timberwolves (35-24) are in the midst of a three-game homestand that started Sunday with a lackluster 111-106 win against Sacramento. After hosting the Rockets, Minnesota finishes against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

"There will be an opportunity to go on the break and recharge, but don't go on the break before the break," Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Stay disciplined. Stay into what we have to do. Concentrate, improve and we go from there."

With two of the best teams in the league, of course, some won't get the advantage of the break. D'Antoni will coach the team drafted by Stephen Curry, which includes Houston guard James Harden and Minnesota's Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns.

While both teams surely will enjoy some down time, the Rockets can use the break to get healthier. Forward Trevor Ariza has missed the past seven games with a hamstring injury and there is no timetable for his return. Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have also missed recent games.

But Houston has reeled off eight wins in a row after beating Dallas 104-97 on Sunday at home. They want two more wins before the break.

"It's a huge motivation," Paul told the Chronicle. "Every game for us matters because we're building, trying to play the right way, make sure we have the right spirit. We need to go there and win."

Tuesday will be the second meeting between the two teams this season. The Rockets won 116-98 at home on Jan. 18. The teams meet three more times by March 18.

The Wolves have the league's second-best home record at 23-6 and have won 13 games in a row on their home court. They escaped Sunday's game with another win as Butler scored 11 points in the fourth quarter.

"Jimmy Butler woke up," Minnesota guard Jamal Crawford said of the change in the fourth quarter. "He was sleeping. When he wakes up, we know how good he is. It just separates everything. He started making all the plays."

Crawford also hit the final of three straight 3-pointers to help the Wolves pull ahead.

"We see teams like Golden State and Houston, teams like that do it," Crawford said of the barrage of 3s. "We have capable shooters. We don't shoot a lot of them, but for whatever reason, we're shooting more of them and I think it's paying off for us."

Houston leads the NBA with 15.6 3-pointers made per game. The Rockets have a league-leading 115.6 offensive rating and are eighth in defensive rating (106.9).

Minnesota has the second-fewest made 3-pointers per game this season, but is third in offensive rating in the NBA at 113.8. The defense has waned often, with the Wolves ranking 25th out of 30 teams with a 110.5 defensive rating.

"These are two games we're going to try like heck to win," D'Antoni told the Chronicle. "We also know that the game up in Minnesota is really a tough one and then we have a back-to-back. It's something we want to do, something we're really going to try to do, but it's not going to wreck the season if we don't do it. We'd just pick up the pieces and keep on going if we don't do it. We'll keep everything in perspective."

Updated February 13, 2018

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