Timberwolves-Hornets Preview

The Associated Press

The injury-plagued Minnesota Timberwolves are not expected to get much healthier over the next few games. That means they'll likely have to rely on Kevin Love and emerging point guard Ricky Rubio even more as they try to change their recent fortune.

The Timberwolves will try to avoid a third straight defeat Friday night against a New Orleans Hornets team that has struggled to overcome the loss of its stars.

Starting forward Michael Beasley and reserve guard J.J. Barea won't be on the floor for Minnesota's brief road trip, ending Saturday in Atlanta, and possibly even longer.

Beasley, the team's second-leading scorer (12.9 points per game), has not played since last Friday because of a sprained right foot. Barea is dealing with a sprained left ankle after missing four games earlier this season because of a strained left hamstring.

The Timberwolves already have had to deal with injuries to swingman Martell Webster (back), rookie guard Malcolm Lee (knee) and center Brad Miller (knee), all of whom have yet to see the court this season. Love missed Thursday's practice for personal reasons but is expected to be available for Friday's game.

"We just have to adjust as we go," coach Rick Adelman said.

That means it could fall to Love and Rubio to lead the way as Minnesota (3-7) tries to avoid losing three in a row for the first time since its 0-3 start. Rubio, who might make his first career start Friday, had 13 points and 12 assists Tuesday in a 111-100 loss to Chicago for his third double-double in five games.

Love recorded his 10th in a row with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but the Timberwolves couldn't take control after trimming a 24-point deficit.

"We have to punch first. I mean, in this league, if they punch first, like Chicago did, you are in trouble," Rubio said.

Minnesota might have a better chance to control the game against the Hornets (3-7), losers in seven of eight overall and four in a row at home. New Orleans is one of the league's lowest-scoring teams with 87.1 points per game and has averaged 88.2 on 41.7 percent shooting over its five home games.

After winning in Denver on Monday, the Hornets fell 95-85 to visiting Oklahoma City on Wednesday as they were outscored 22-15 over the final quarter. The 15 points matched their fewest in any period this season.

"We showed that we can come out and jump on teams early, but we also showed we have difficulty sustaining it for 48 minutes," guard Jarrett Jack said. "It's frustrating."

The losses of All-Stars Chris Paul and David West in the offseason have clearly hurt the last-place Hornets, as have injury problems. Eric Gordon has been limited him to two games due to a sore knee, and fellow starter Trevor Ariza has been out since Jan. 2 with a groin injury.

Even with Paul and West in the lineup, the Hornets lost two of three meetings with the Timberwolves last season. Minnesota snapped a five-game road losing streak in the series with a 104-92 win Feb. 7.

Love had 27 points and 17 rebounds in that victory and recorded double-doubles in all three matchups last season.

Wes Johnson topped 20 points in two of last season's games and has averaged 16.3 points against the Hornets for his best career mark versus any opponent. However, he's off to a slow start this season with 4.8 points per game on 34.5 percent shooting.

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