NEW ORLEANS - For the Minnesota Timberwolves, the injuries keep mounting -- but so do the wins.
On a night when All-Star forward Kevin Love missed 14 of 18 shots and severely jammed his right thumb late in the game, the Timberwolves won their fifth game in six outings by placing six players in double figures. They also benefited from a career-high 31 points by center Nikola Pekovic to defeat the New Orleans Hornets 113-102 at the New Orleans Arena on Friday.
Love, who still managed to score 14 points and pull down nine rebounds, said he was thankful the post-game X-rays of his right thumb were negative, but he was clearly concerned about the injury, which occurred when he tried to slap the ball away from Hornets guard Austin Rivers.
"I'm not concerned because we won and we're two games over .500 (11-9)," Love said. "But I'm a little down because I'm trying to work through stuff with my hand, and then this happens. We won, so that's keeping me out of the gutter. I just know it's stiff, real stiff. It hurts. I'm lucky (the X-ray) was negative."
The Timberwolves entered the game without point guard Malcolm Lee, who hurt his knee earlier in the week, and gave rookie Alexey Shved of Russia his first NBA start. Josh Howard also went to the bench with a hyperextended knee in the first half.
But Pekovic and forward Andrei Kirilenko, who scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, dominated the interior all night. Minnesota outscored the Hornets 70-42 in the paint, mostly because it moved the ball quickly in transition, easily danced around slower-footed Hornets' defenders on the baseline and made precision passes.
"We were really playing at a high level, like we should play every game," Pekovic said.
"(Pekovic) got 10 to 15 points just on fast breaks, which is very unusual for a big man," Kirilenko said. "That means we are executing the ball and finding the right man. In my opinion, (Pekovic) is the best big man in the West right now. He's dominating the inside. He's playing like a pure big man, being a great presence inside and making free throws. That's a very key point for a big man. If they foul you, you have to punish them. He's fighting for the spot and getting the ball in the right spot."
The Timberwolves broke open a 90-86 game by outscoring the Hornets 13-5 in a 2:51 stretch of the fourth quarter. They did most of their damage with second-chance baskets, getting tip-ins by Dante Cunningham and Kirilenko.
"They attacked us and we played a passive style of basketball," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "Pekovic was dominant. He just dominated all of our bigs tonight
The Hornets got a career-high 27 points from Rivers, who scored 19 in the first half when the game was tied, 50-50. Ryan Anderson added 20 points for the Hornets.
"I came in thinking to be aggressive and make plays for my teammates," Rivers said. "I've got to continue to do that."
Minnesota placed three other players in doubles figures, including Luke Ridnour with 15, Shved with 13 and Jose Juan Barea with 12.
The Hornets led 62-59, but Minnesota closed the third quarter on a 23-11 run, including nine points by Pekovic and two 3-pointers by Ridnour, to take an 82-73 lead after three quarters. The Timberwolves built their advantage despite the cold shooting night by Love, who missed 12 of his first 14 shots.
Notes: Williams, who has five children ranging in age from 2 years old to early teens, reacted with horror over the elementary school massacre Friday in Newtown, Conn. "At some point, we have to get past bureaucracy and all the nonsense and do something about this so our kids can be safe," Williams said. "If we can go to outer space and take care of trees, rivers and animals, then we can do a better job of taking care of our kids. It's just a sad situation." ... The 113 points for Minnesota was a season high... The Hornets allowed 24 second-chance points, the most this season... Point guard Ricky Rubio, who has been out the entire season with a left knee injury, was resting in Minneapolis and may make his season debut Saturday night against Dallas. ... Hornets forward Jason Smith sprained his shoulder Wednesday night in Oklahoma City trying to block a Kevin Durant dunk, and Williams said he could miss the next two weeks.