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MINNEAPOLIS — When the Minnesota Timberwolves clinched their first playoff berth in 14 years with a win against Denver in the regular-season finale Carlton Davis Youth Jersey , the home crowd at Target Center erupted in jubilation as the drought ended.

Minnesota went on the road to Houston and lost the first two games of the first-round series. The Timberwolves and their fans hope a return home can get them back in the series.

The Rockets come to Minnesota on Saturday with a 2-0 lead after Wednesday’s dominating 102-82 victory, leaving the Timberwolves wondering how to make their mark and hoping they can get a boost from the home crowd.

“It feels good,” Minnesota forward Andrew Wiggins told the Minneapolis Star Tribune about returning home. “Houston took care of business up there and now we’ve got to do the same up here. I know the fans will be excited, the atmosphere will be crazy and the whole team, we’re confident. We’re ready.”

Wiggins believes — maybe hopes — the fans will be as involved as they were during the season finale. The Wolves missed the playoffs for 13 straight seasons before this year. The last home playoff game was in the 2004 Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I think it’ll be crazy, kind of like the Denver game,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “Fans were just screaming and into the game the whole time. We’re home. The fans will be into it. I’m excited. I know the guys are too.”

Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau knows a lot is on the line on Saturday.

“You’re trying to erase 14 years of losing,” Thibodeau told the Star Tribune. “It’s not an easy thing to do. This team has fought like crazy all year. We were basically a three-seed when Jimmy (Butler) went down. We finished a game out of the fourth spot. I’m proud of what they’ve done and now our challenge is to win this next game.”

It won’t be easy against Houston.

The Rockets only shot 36.5 percent from the field in Game 2 and James Harden was limited to 12 points in 30:46. Yet, Houston won by 20 after squeaking by with a three-point win in Game 1.

“We haven’t played very well so far,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told the Houston Chronicle. “It’ll be crazy up there. They haven’t been in the playoffs for a long time. It will be a very loud crowd. We have to do our part, play defense and take the crowd out of it. We have to be ready for all they got. Whatever they have left, we’re going to get it full throttle right when we get on the floor to start the game.”

Minnesota actually was the aggressor early in Game 2 Mike McGlinchey Jersey , leading after the first quarter. But the Wolves shot 38.8 percent from the field. All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns finished with just five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Butler had 11 points, while Wiggins scored 13.

The Wolves were one of the league’s best teams at home with a 30-11 record, but they lost all four games in the regular season to Houston, including twice at Target Center.

“They have a really good team at home,” Harden told the Chronicle. “Nothing’s changed for us. We’ve been a pretty good road team all year. Go out there, execute, limit our turnovers … and just make it tough, make it tough for every guy on their team. We haven’t shot the ball well yet. Knock down some shots, and we’ll be good.”

Minnesota is looking to possibly change its approach. Point guard Jeff Teague has been outspoken at times this year and said the key on Saturday will be playing up tempo to get the crowd in the game.

“What we’ve been playing like hasn’t worked,” Teague told the Star Tribune. “We lost both games, and we played a slow pace. I think we played right into their hands. Last time we played them here at home (in March), we got out in the second half and picked up the pace and made it a closer game. That’s the only way we can play to be successful against this team.”

Joel Embiid had trouble with his new mask.

It didn’t slow him down.

Embiid’s playoff debut was a smashing success for Philadelphia. The All-Star center returned from a 10-game absence by scoring 23 points Zack Martin Jersey , including a personal 7-0 run down the stretch that iced matters, and the 76ers reclaimed control of their Eastern Conference first-round series by topping the Miami Heat 128-108 on Thursday night.

The 76ers outscored the Heat 32-14 in the fourth quarter, and took a 2-1 lead in the series.

”I am just so proud of what he did,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

Rightly so, too. Embiid started the day doubtful, ended it dominant, and had plenty of help as well. Marco Belinelli and Dario Saric each scored 21 for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

”It was annoying,” Embiid said of getting used to the mask. ”But that was the only way I could play in this game, if I wore the mask and protected my face with goggles. I had to work through it and I did.”

Thursday began with the 76ers saying Embiid wasn’t likely to play. His status was upgraded to probable in the afternoon and then he finally was inserted into the starting lineup – medical clearance coming from the team, mask clearance coming from the NBA after the league signed off on the dark Cheap Josh Rosen Jersey , translucent, carbon-fiber, goggled apparatus that was made in consultation with independent experts.

The mask came off a couple times, the goggles were askew at times as well – Heat forward Justise Winslow even stomping on them once for good measure, a play that Brown chalked up to the intensity of playoff basketball – but in the end Embiid found a way.

”It’s definitely a different look when you have an All-Star back in the lineup,” Winslow said. ”It changes things, for sure.”

Goran Dragic scored 23 points for Miami, which got 19 from Winslow and 14 from Josh Richardson.

Game 4 is Saturday afternoon.

Embiid banked in a turnaround straightaway jumper – a fortuitous bounce – to put Philadelphia up nine late, then connected on a 3-pointer and added a pair of throws to start the spurt that put away the game.

Meanwhile, Miami couldn’t find any sort of stride.

Hassan Whiteside was mired in foul trouble and ineffective, finishing the night all of 1 for 1 from the field for five points. Dwyane Wade, who Miami needed to be superb in the win at Philadelphia in Game 2 Cheap DJ Moore Jersey , shot 2 for 10. Wayne Ellington, Miami’s single-season leader in 3-pointers after making a record 227 this season, was 1 for 5 from the floor.

The Heat won Game 2 by controlling the physical battle.

Game 3 was another street fight, and Philadelphia didn’t back down. Philly won Game 1 by dominating the second half, and Game 3 went a similar way. The 76ers outscored Miami 74-43 in the second half of Game 1, and 65-44 in the second half on Thursday.

”It’s clear that the first game and the third game were played on their terms,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

TIP-INS

76ers: Philadelphia had a pair of shooters fouled beyond the 3-point line in the first quarter: Robert Covington made two of his three free throws, and Belinelli turned his chance into a four-point play. … Embiid missed his first five shots, then put his finger to his lips in the universal ”shush” sound to the crowd after getting his first one to fall.

Heat: Winslow’s previous season high for scoring was 18. … Wade, who carried Miami to the win at Philadelphia in Game 2, didn’t get his first field goal in this one until 2:46 was left in the third. … The Heat allowed Philadelphia to shoot 51 percent.

MANY WHISTLES

The teams combined for 56 personal fouls – Heat 30, 76ers 26. Each team also was whistled for three technicals.

IN MEMORIAM

The game was preceded by a moment of silence to remember the lives of Erin Popovich Rashaad Penny Jersey , the wife of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, and former first lady Barbara Bush. Brown is a former a Spurs assistant who has remained close with the Popovich family, and said Erin Popovich ”was a star, like a real star. A very strong woman, and somebody that will be missed.”

WELCOME BACK

Among those in the sold-out crowd were former Heat point guards Mario Chalmers and Jason Williams, the starters on Miami’s three NBA championship teams. Both got warm ovations when shown on the videoboards around the arena.

UP NEXT

Game 4 is Saturday in Miami, a rare 2:30 p.m. start.

.


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