Corey Brewer scored a career-high 51 points and Gorgui Dieng hit a short jumper with 4.6 seconds to play to give the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves a 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.
Brewer also had six steals and made 19 of 30 shots in 45 minutes, easily surpassing his previous career high of 29 points. He became the fifth player this season to score 50 points, and the Wolves had a staggering 39 points in transition against Houston's woeful defense.
James Harden hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds to go that tied it at 110, but the rookie Dieng calmly knocked down the game-winner for the Wolves, who were missing All-Star Kevin Love with a hyperextended right elbow.
Harden had 33 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Rockets, who entered the night just 1½ games ahead of Portland for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"We have no choice now," Harden said. "Three games to go, we're trying to lock in home court advantage and we just keep letting games slip away."
Brewer scored in every way imaginable, ripping a Houston defense missing its two defensive leaders — Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley — for the eighth straight game. He hit jumpers, runners, dunks, free throws and even added a heave from beyond half-court to beat the halftime buzzer.
"I don't think they knew what to do with him," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "We didn't know what to do with him, either."
He eclipsed 50 with a pair of free throws with 1:43 to play that gave Minnesota a 105-103 lead. He joined Kevin Durant (twice), LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Terrence Ross in the 50-point club for this season.
"I want to watch it again and see if he really scored 51," Ricky Rubio said.
Dante Cunningham had 20 points and 13 rebounds for a Wolves team that was also missing Nikola Pekovic (right foot), Kevin Martin (right heel), Chase Budinger (right ankle) and Shabazz Muhammad (right knee). Rubio had 16 points and 10 assists and Dieng added 12 points and 20 rebounds.
Chandler Parsons had 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets.
Howard and Beverley are tone-setters for Houston on defense, with Howard prowling the paint and Beverley hounding point guards on the perimeter, so it comes as no surprise that the Rockets have struggled in their absence. But 51 points from Corey Brewer?
"It's been four or five games where we have not competed hard enough," a visibly frustrated McHale said. "I don't know what to do. You try different lineups, you try different stuff, but guys have got to go out there and they've just got to compete harder."
Brewer was averaging 11.7 points this season, most of which came on outlet passes in transition from Love. His quarterback could only watch from the bench Friday night, but Brewer still managed to tie Love's franchise record for points in a game.
McHale has openly lamented his team's poor transition defense, saying the Rockets desperately need some practice time for a refresher course. With the playoffs looming, there's not much time to make wholesale changes. If the playoffs started on Saturday, the Rockets would play fifth-seeded Portland in the first round, and Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Blazers would certainly test those defensive shortcomings.
McHale went with a smaller lineup, taking Omer Asik out and essentially playing Terrence Jones at the center spot in the second quarter, and it seemed to help slow the Wolves transition game a little bit. Parsons hit 7 of 9 shots, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, to help the Rockets stay in the game.
They led 63-59 at halftime, but Brewer kept coming. He scored Minnesota's final 10 points of the third to cut the deficit to 84-82 heading into the fourth.
His runner in transition gave the Wolves a 91-87 lead three minutes into the final period, bringing the Target Center crowd to its feet.
NOTES: Brewer is the fourth player to score at least 50 points and grab at least six steals in a game, joining Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Rick Barry. ... The Rockets had 22 turnovers that led to 28 points for Minnesota. ... The Timberwolves held a moment of silence before the game for six-time All-Star Lou Hudson, who died on Friday. Hudson starred in college at the University of Minnesota.