MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves showed the league's stingiest defense that they can play a little bit of it, too.
Pushing Yao Ming out of the post as much as possible and denying Tracy McGrady as many shots as they could, the Timberwolves harassed the Houston Rockets all night and emerged with 90-84 win on Wednesday.
Kevin Garnett turned in the usual, with 24 points and 12 rebounds, but his long arms against Yao were more influential.
"Defense wins, though. That's what the fans want," Garnett said. "It might not be the prettiest game. Not the alley-oops or the flashy plays, but we're winning the game and that's what's important."
Yao had 14 points - more than 11 under his average -- and eight rebounds, shooting 5-for-19 from the field. McGrady, though he had 10 rebounds and seven assists, finished with 14 points on 5-for-21 shooting.
Garnett's analysis? "Like a bunch of hyenas on two lions."
McGrady was certainly complimentary.
"It was one of those nights, man," he said. "We definitely don't have very many like that."
Making up for last week's 82-75 loss at Houston, the Wolves won a remarkably even game by refusing to let Yao dominate underneath as he has so many times this season -- with Garnett, Mark Blount and Craig Smith all chipping in after Mark Madsen left with an early injury.
They constantly had two defenders on Yao, protecting the paint, nudging him out of his preferred spot, hindering the pick-and-roll and forcing the Rockets to shoot from the perimeter -- where Trenton Hassell and others made it tough for McGrady to find any room.
"A good offense in this league gets shots where they want them," said Shane Battier, who had 13 points.
Houston is the only team allowing a per-game average of less than 92 points, at just 87.8 coming into the night. Minnesota, though, was third in the NBA at midweek with an average of 92.9 points given up.
"We finally transferred our practice habits into the game," coach Dwane Casey said.
It was most obvious this wasn't Yao's night in the fourth quarter, when he was inexplicably called for a technical foul -- apparently for hanging too long on the rim -- following a dunk in Eddie Griffin's face.
Later, he swatted Troy Hudson's layup and was whistled for goaltending to give the Timberwolves the biggest lead by either team all game, 85-77 with 5:21 left.
About a minute after that, Garnett stuffed a short shot by Yao, who grabbed the rebound but simply missed the putback and returned to the defensive end wearing a frustrated expression. Garnett jumped for joy at midcourt on the way back, pumping his fist in the air.
"What I can say is I will make those next time," Yao said.
Rafer Alston's 3-pointer cut the Minnesota lead to 87-84, and after a miss by Marko Jaric, the Rockets had a chance to tie with less than 30 seconds remaining. But Alston's 3-pointer fell short, Garnett got the rebound and made two foul shots to seal it.
Houston, one of six clubs with a winning percentage greater than .700, a group that includes all three Texas teams in the Southwest Division, had won six of its last seven games. The Rockets, who started a stretch in which they play eight of nine on the road, got 16 points apiece from Alston and Luther Head.
The Wolves were especially well-rounded, getting 19 points from Mike James, 12 from Blount and 10 from Smith. Jaric provided a spark down the stretch, stealing the ball from Yao, blocking McGrady's shot from behind and chasing down a loose ball for a key offensive rebound.
Climbing with one game of the break-even mark at 8-9, Minnesota was rightfully proud of the defensive effort against two of the league's top talents -- hopeful that this could turn into some momentum after a so-so start that has included several sloppy performances.
Utah, owner of the NBA's best record, is up next on Friday.
"We're on a roll right now, and we're feeling good," Smith said. "Everyone's got confidence, so we're ready to roll."
Griffin, who is healthy but hadn't appeared in four of the previous five games, played sparingly (five minutes) for Minnesota against his former team. ... The Rockets fell to 5-2 when scoring fewer than 90 points. ... Madsen partially dislocated his right shoulder in the first quarter. He said he will probably be out for a couple of days, perhaps up to a week.