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21-21
79 -
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17-20

Rockets-Timberwolves Preview

AP - Sports

Struggling through their second lengthy stretch without injured star Kevin Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves on the verge of their longest losing streak of the season.

Things aren't about to get any easier with Nikola Pekovic sidelined for at least a week.

The injury-plagued Timberwolves try to avoid a sixth consecutive loss Saturday night against a visiting Houston Rockets team mired in a brutal skid of its own.

Love, who sat out the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season due to a broken right hand, has missed the last seven games after suffering the same injury in a 101-97 win at Denver on Jan. 3, and remains out indefinitely.

Minnesota (16-20) has since gone 1-6, dropping its last five games by an average of 16.0 points. The Timberwolves suffered another big blow Thursday, losing Pekovic to a badly bruised right quadriceps in a 90-77 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers. The formidable big man is averaging 16.0 points and 8.6 rebounds and will miss the next seven to 10 days.

Alexey Shved, who averages 10.7 points, also left Thursday's matchup with an ankle injury.

"We've had a very difficult run of bad luck," team president David Kahn said. "However, as I said to the players, there is still in that circle of players that are available, a lot of talent.

"So I don't think this is a time for us to feel sorry for ourselves. Or to panic, or begin to do anything but simply play better, smarter, more together and try to win some games."

Besides Love, Pekovic and Shved, the Timberwolves are also dealing with injuries to Chase Budinger (knee), Brandon Roy (knee), Josh Howard (knee) and Malcolm Lee (hip). Terry Porter, who's been filling in while coach Rick Adelman tends to his hospitalized wife, only had seven healthy players for Friday's practice.

On a positive note, Ricky Rubio appears to be getting closer to full strength after returning from a torn ACL on Dec. 15. The Barcelona native, though, is averaging just 3.8 points and 4.7 assists over 11 games while shooting 22.2 percent. He went 2 for 9 from the field and finished with four points and six assists in his first start of the season against the Clippers.

"It's tough when you're playing, and there's no more bodies over there," Rubio said. "You have to remain doing new things every single game, and we can't get the rhythm. But that's no excuse. We are professionals. I think that players that are healthy have to step up and start doing a better job."

The Rockets (21-20) are also hoping to pick up the pace after averaging 95.7 points - 9.4 less than their season mark - over a six-game slide. Houston, which hasn't dropped seven straight since Jan. 6-18, 2006, saw its woes continue Friday in a 105-95 loss at Indiana.

The Rockets were outscored 31-18 in the first quarter and finished with 18 turnovers.

"We can get things going for a while but we have a period where we struggle," coach Kevin McHale said. "And we're constantly going through a period in the first half where we have a slew of turnovers and then it's a battle to get back and fight and get over the hump."

Omer Asik had a career-high 22 points and 12 rebounds but James Harden was limited to 17 points - snapping his career-best 22-game streak of scoring at least 20. Harden has gone a combined 10 for 42 (23.8 percent) from the field in his last two games.

While the Rockets have taken 16 of 20 from the Timberwolves, they had dropped three straight in this series before pulling out an 87-84 road win Dec. 26 behind 30 points from Harden.

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