Hornets-Timberwolves Preview

The Associated Press

Regrouping from their latest defeat might not be the only concern facing the Minnesota Timberwolves.

All-Star Kevin Love and talented rookie Ricky Rubio could both be sidelined Saturday night when the Timberwolves try to hand the visiting New Orleans Hornets a fifth consecutive defeat.

Averaging 25.5 points and 13.8 rebounds this season, Love was scratched due to back spasms prior to Friday's 105-102 home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Timberwolves led by as many as 14 in the first quarter and nine at halftime even without Love, but the Lakers outrebounded them 45-34, grabbed 17 offensive boards and outscored the hosts 54-40 in the paint.

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Minnesota (21-20), which is ninth in the Western Conference, one-half game behind Houston for the final playoff spot.

Love had averaged 33.3 points in his previous four games.

"With K-Love out it really does hurt, but we really competed out there," rookie Derrick Williams told the Timberwolves' official website after he posted 22 points and 10 rebounds while starting in place of Love.

Center Nikola Pekovic did his best to man the paint without Love, scoring 25 points and pulling down 13 boards in his return from a two-game absence due to a sore foot.

"Pek is just scary big, scary strong," forward Michael Beasley said.

Though Love could return for this contest, Rubio's condition seems more serious after the point guard had to be helped off the floor in the final 16 seconds Friday when his left knee buckled as the result of a collision with Kobe Bryant. Rubio, the 2009 fifth overall pick from Spain who is playing in his first NBA season, had 15 points and 10 assists prior to the injury.

The Timberwolves are already without backup guard J.J. Barea, who could miss a second straight contest with a sprained left ankle.

Love had 34 points with 15 rebounds and Rubio added 12 points, nine assists and six rebounds as the Timberwolves overcame a 34.3-percent shooting effort and 16 turnovers to win 87-80 at New Orleans on Jan. 13.

Minnesota has won three of four in this series following a six-game losing streak.

The Hornets (9-11) have still won eight of their last 10 visits to Minnesota, but they arrive this time as losers of four in a row including a 110-97 defeat Friday at Denver.

"I didn't think as a whole we brought the energy that was necessary to get through those runs they made,'' New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. "Obviously we have guys out there that don't know what we do, but some of the stuff that was happening it was just simple basketball plays and we weren't making them."

Lance Thomas had 18 points off the bench and Jarrett Jack added 17 for New Orleans, which fell to 5-15 on the road this season.

Jack has combined for 42 points on 58.1 percent shooting in his last two games, but he scored only eight in the January loss to Minnesota.

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