The Minnesota Timberwolves' first game without Ricky Rubio didn't evoke much optimism.
It's not going to get any easier as the Timberwolves embark on a season-high seven-game road trip Monday night against a surging Phoenix Suns team that has won nine straight in the series.
With Rubio and All-Star Kevin Love leading the way, it appeared Minnesota (21-21) could earn its first playoff berth since 2004. It entered Friday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers tied with Houston for eighth place in the Western Conference, but its playoff hopes now appear grim.
Rubio's left knee buckled with 16 seconds remaining in the 105-102 loss to the Lakers, and a day later an MRI confirmed that the point guard tore his ACL and is done for the season. The 21-year-old was averaging 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and was third in the league with 2.2 steals per game.
With its floor leader sidelined, Minnesota's playoff push didn't get off to an encouraging start.
Hosting New Orleans on Saturday, the Timberwolves committed 17 turnovers - their most in eight games - and shot 21.7 percent from 3-point range (5 of 23) in suffering a 95-89 loss to the West's worst team.
"It's like we reverted back to a long time ago,'' coach Rick Adelman said. "We're not going to get it done that way.''
Kevin Love returned after missing the Laker game because of back spasms and finished with 31 points and 16 rebounds, while Nikola Pekovic had 21 points and 11 boards, but Minnesota's new backcourt starter struggled.
Martell Webster started at shooting guard while Luke Ridnour moved from off the ball to start at the point. Ridnour finished with 14 points and 10 assists but Webster had two points on 1-of-5 shooting.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," said Love, who is averaging 35.3 points and 14.8 rebounds in his last four games. "We got to accept it and move on."
That could be tough with the Timberwolves on the road until returning to host Denver on March 25.
"I hate to put more pressure on us," Love said, "but this is make or break time."
Minnesota begins its trek against the Suns (19-21), whose current five-game home winning streak began with a 104-95 victory over the Timberwolves on March 1. Minnesota has been outscored by an average of 13.7 points in losing nine straight to the Suns since a 105-103 win Jan. 16, 2009, their lone victory in the last 11 meetings in Phoenix.
Last week's meeting featured the anticipated matchup between Rubio and two-time MVP Steve Nash.
The 38-year-old Nash outplayed the flashy rookie, finishing with 13 points, matching a season high with 17 assists and leading his team with eight rebounds. Another veteran paced the Suns, as 39-year-old Grant Hill scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half.
Rubio finished with 13 points and two assists, while Love had 23 points but missed 17 of 25 shots
The Suns are coming off Saturday's 98-91 win over Memphis, their fifth victory in six games. Jared Dudley scored 19 points to lead six scorers in double figures as the Suns came back from 11 down. They've faced double-digit deficits in each of their last five wins.
"I think we're adjusting as the game goes along and finding ways to get ourselves going and usually someone gives us a lift,'' said Nash, who had 11 points and 15 assists.