A win over one of the NBA's top teams wasn't enough to get the Minnesota Timberwolves on a roll. Chris Paul's return, meanwhile, didn't help the New
Orleans Hornets continue their momentum.

The Timberwolves and Hornets, both coming off letdowns, look to bounce back when they continue their season series Friday.

Minnesota (22-23) lost 100-98 to Sacramento on Wednesday night as Kevin Martin made the go-ahead jumper with 16.6 seconds left.

The worst part for the Timberwolves, though, was that it followed a 121-112 victory over Phoenix that ended the Suns' 17-game winning streak and moved the up-and-down Wolves back to the .500 mark.

"Believe me, if I had ... answers, I would definitely share them," Minnesota star Kevin Garnett said.

The Timberwolves fell behind 54-41 at halftime, leaving interim coach Randy Wittman exasperated by his team's early lack of effort.

"That's not acceptable," Wittman said. "We've talked every day about effort and coming out and playing hard."

Garnett agreed with Wittman's assessment.

"You feel it in the air, if you're real with yourself," said Garnett, who had 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists but went 8-of-24 from the field.

Minnesota had won two straight following a six-game losing streak.

Paul, the reigning Rookie of the Year, returned to the lineup Wednesday but New Orleans (19-26) lost for the first time in four games, 89-78 to Philadelphia.

The Hornets were ineffective on offense in Paul's first game after a month-long absence with a sprained right ankle. Paul had nine points and two assists in 29 minutes as the Hornets had a six-game home winning streak snapped and fell to 3-1 on their current five-game homestand.

"It's disappointing for me and the team," Paul said. "They won three in a row, and I come back and we get the life beat out of us."

New Orleans coach Byron Scott said he wants Paul to play normally and not be cautious, but he did limit the point guard's minutes.

"My biggest concern is his conditioning," Scott said. "I've got to make sure that I really watch him closely."

Paul has played in both of New Orleans' games against Minnesota this season, with each team winning on the road. Paul, the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, had 35 points, six assists and five rebounds in a 99-96 win over the Timberwolves on Nov. 18.

Rashad McCants, who was picked by Minnesota 10 spots later than Paul, made his season debut Wednesday. He had two points in five minutes in his first game since microfracture surgery on his right knee in June.

The original timetable for his return was four to six months, but the team has been extra cautious. After a slow start to his rookie season, McCants scored in double digits his last 12 games as his role increased with the team out of playoff contention. He shot 37.2 percent from 3-point range, a franchise record for rookies.


Copyright 2006 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited