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Wolves snap streak

Minnesota limits Rockets' 7-foot-5 rookie sensation

By Robbi Pickeral

Knight Ridder Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS -- At 7 feet 5, with calves the size of cantaloupes, Houston rookie Yao Ming looked to be a big threat for the tired Timberwolves on Saturday night.

But in the end, Minnesota simply made him look like a big distraction.

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Despite 12 points and 12 rebounds from the Chinese center, the Wolves broke their two-game losing streak and snapped the Rockets' three-game winning streak with a 98-86 victory in front of 16,239 at Target Center.

"Happy holidays!" forward Kevin Garnett screamed into Target Center's public address microphone afterward.

Minnesota got a bit of something from everyone. Forward Gary Trent played what coach Flip Saunders called his best defensive game as a Wolf, with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Centers Rasho Nesterovic and Marc Jackson did a solid job limiting Yao's touches by keeping him off the block. And point guards Troy Hudson and Rod Strickland combined for 29 points and 12 assists.

Garnett finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

"He's like a spider -- strong arms and strong legs," Yao said through a translator after playing against Garnett for the first time.

Garnett's response: "I might be a tarantula."

Garnett helped his team weave a strong web early, and Houston never escaped.

Houston, which trailed by 16 points in the first half, used a 16-5 run in the third quarter -- led by eight points from forward Glen Rice -- to take its only lead of the second half, 67-66. But it didn't last.

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With Strickland running the point for most of the second half and helping find Garnett for 15 shots after halftime, the Wolves held Houston without a field goal for the final 3:13 of the third quarter then shot 56.3 percent in the fourth.

"You use your energy getting back in the game, and it was our execution down the stretch that resulted in us losing," said point guard Steve Francis, who led Houston with 24 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. "Guys just dribbled up and pulled up and took shots, and that hurt us."

The Wolves were coming off consecutive losses in which they allowed 40-point games from an opponent's shooting guard. Containing Houston's perimeter players, including Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Rice, probably should have been more difficult than controlling Philadelphia's Allen Iverson or Boston's Paul Pierce because of the sizable distraction of Yao.

But it didn't seem that way early.

Although both teams were playing their second game in two nights, Minnesota seemed fresher even though it was playing its fourth game in five nights.

The score was tied 6-6 when the Wolves made their first run, a 20-6 sprint that included four three-pointers from Hudson. Yao was 0 for 1 with two assists in the first quarter, during which Nesterovic had eight points and a rebound. That set the tone.

HOUSTON (86)

Rice 4-12 1-3 10, Griffin 2-6 1-2 5, Yao 4-9 4-4 12, Mobley 5-13 2-2 12, Francis 8-19 7-9 24, Cato 2-3 0-0 4, Mau.Taylor 5-8 1-2 11, Morris 1-4 0-0 2, Norris 3-6 0-0 6, Hawkins 0-1 0-0 0, Posey 0-1 0-0 0, Nachbar 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-82 16-22 86.

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MINNESOTA (98)

Garnett 10-20 7-7 27, Trent 6-10 0-0 12, Nesterovic 5-9 0-0 10, Gill 3-8 0-0 6, Hudson 5-9 0-0 15, Peeler 0-3 0-0 0, J.Smith 2-4 0-0 4, Jackson 4-10 2-2 10, Strickland 5-11 4-6 14. Totals 40-84 13-15 98.

Houston 20 25 24 17 -- 86

; Minnesota 30 23 21 24 -- 98

; 3-Point Goals--Houston 2-19 (Francis 1-1, Rice 1-6, Griffin 0-1, Norris 0-1, Hawkins 0-1, Posey 0-1, Morris 0-2, Mobley 0-6), Minnesota 5-10 (Hudson 5-8, Garnett 0-1, Strickland 0-1). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--Houston 53 (Yao 12), Minnesota 47 (Trent 13). Assists--Houston 19 (Mobley, Norris, Yao 4), Minnesota 28 (Strickland 7). Total fouls--Houston 14, Minnesota 22. Technicals--Houston Defensive Three Second. A--16,329 (19,006).

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