The Minnesota Timberwolves had the unfortunate luck of visiting the New Orleans Hornets last week when Chris Paul(notes) made his return. After missing three weeks with a sprained left ankle, Paul showed no ill effects in leading the Hornets to victory.
A rematch at home may give the Timberwolves hope for a different result.
The Hornets have won both games since Paul’s return, but they’ll be taking one of the NBA’s worst road records and a five-game skid away from home into the Target Center on Wednesday to face Minnesota.
New Orleans (9-11) went 4-4 with Paul sidelined, with all four of those losses coming on the road. The Hornets, however, are 1-5 away from home even with Paul in the lineup, and their nine road defeats have been by an average of 13.3 points.
At home, New Orleans is 8-2, and 2-0 since Paul’s return. The NBA’s two-time reigning assist leader dished out 15 in his first game back Friday to go along with 16 points and eight steals in a 98-89 win over Minnesota (3-18), then had 15 points and 12 assists Tuesday to complement David West’s(notes) 24 points in a 96-94 victory over Sacramento.
“We had guys back, CP’s back and Peja (Stojakovic) is back,” said forward Darius Songaila(notes), who made the game-winning layup with 12 seconds left. “The schedule is a little more favorable for us, and we can get more practices and more rest. Put all of those things together and come out with wins.”
The Timberwolves certainly can’t be excited about having to face a healthy Paul for the second time in six days, particularly considering he’s averaged 22.3 points, 13.2 assists and 4.0 steals in his last six games against them.
Along with Paul’s return to the lineup, the Hornets have to be thrilled with what they’ve seen out of their other former rookie of the year. Emeka Okafor(notes) was averaging 7.4 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent during a nine-game stretch from Nov. 9-25, but over his past five contests he’s averaging 17.8 points and 11.5 boards while connecting on 69.8 percent of his shots.
Seven Timberwolves scored in double figures in a 108-101 win over Utah on Saturday - Ryan Gomes(notes) led the way with 23 - but their offense took a negative turn Tuesday in Toronto. Jefferson had 15 points while shooting 5 of 16, and Minnesota lost 94-88 despite 18 points from Kevin Love(notes) off the bench.
The Raptors shot 32.1 percent from the floor - easily the Timberwolves’ best defensive effort of the season - but got to the line 48 times compared with Minnesota’s 23.
“It’s awful tough to beat teams whenever there’s a wide margin in the free throws like that,” Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said.
The Hornets (21.4 per game) and the Timberwolves (20.2) rank 28th and 29th, respectively, in free-throw attempts.
While Paul’s return Friday drew plenty of attention, Love’s season debut the same night after fracturing his left hand in the preseason could be nearly as significant to his team, which is desperately lacking an effective offensive big man besides Jefferson. Love - a second-team all-rookie selection in 2008-09 - has averaged 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in his first three games.
The last time Minnesota won consecutive home games was Jan. 23-25 - the first of which was a 116-108 win over New Orleans in the Hornets’ last visit to Target Center.