McHale, who twice left his front-office position with the Timberwolves as vice president of basketball operations to replace a struggling coach: Flip Saunders in 2005 and Randy Wittman in 2009, piloted his new team to a 107-92 win in the Twin Cities a week ago today.
Ironically, the mentor now on the Wolves' bench, Rick Adelman, is the coach McHale replaced in Houston.
McHale, a Hall of Fame player with an incredible drop-step move for the Boston Celtics, is, of course, a Minnesota legend. Born in Hibbing, he was Minnesota's Mr. Basketball during his senior season at Hibbing High School. The 6-foot-10 power forward then moved on to the University of Minnesota where he was named All-Big Ten in 1979 and 1980. In 1992, he was elected to the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame and, in 1995, he was selected as top player in the history of University of Minnesota men's basketball.
As a coach with the Wolves McHale was 20-43 (.317) when he finished the 2008-09 season after Wittman was fired and 19-12 (.613) in 2004-05 after Saunders' exit.
He got off to a rocky start in Houston but has turned things around quickly. The Rockets won for the ninth time in 10 games and improved to 2-1 on a four- game homestand Saturday when Chase Budinger had 19 points and Goran Dragic added 16, as Houston cruised past the reeling Knicks, 97-84.
Neither team was with its leading scorer. Kevin Martin was out with a foot injury, but the Rockets got 14 points from both Jordan Hill and Courtney Lee to win for the ninth time in 10 games. New York, meanwhile, was without Carmelo Anthony for the second straight contest due to a litany of ailments.
"We've got good depth," said McHale. "Those guys (the bench) can play basketball."
Martin, who is struggling with a case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, scored a team-high 31 points against Minnesota last week and is listed as questionable for tonight's contest. Lee has replaced Martin in the starting lineup and was involved in a minor car accident following the team's win over the Knicks but should be ready for tonight's contest.
The Wolves, meanwhile, are much improved under Adelman but missed out on a chance to reach the .500 mark when they fell to the Lakers, 106-101, at Target Center on Sunday.
Kevin Love posted his 19th double-double of the season with 33 points and 13 boards in that one for the Timberwolves, who have lost to the Lakers 16 straight times.
Michael Beasley also had a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota, which had a two-game winning streak snapped and failed to reach .500 after 20 games for the first time since it was 22-22 on Jan. 30, 2007. Nikola Pekovic tallied 13 points and nine boards.
"We fought back and gave ourselves a chance to win," Love said.
The Rockets traditionally dominate Minnesota, winning 15 of the last 16 in the series but the lone Wolves win in that stretch came during their last visit to South Texas, a 112-108 triumph last Feb. 8.