Hornets Spoil Wolves' Homestand Finale, Win 95-89

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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There were no excuses in the Timberwolves locker room following Saturday’s 95-89 loss to the New Orleans Hornets. The Wolves didn’t hang it on the emotional turn of events in the past 24 hours, losing guard Ricky Rubio for the season with a ACL injury in his left knee. They didn’t pinpoint Friday’s last-second loss to the Lakers.

The Wolves simply didn’t bring the necessary level of energy needed to win Saturday at Target Center, and heading into a seven-game road trip over the next two weeks Minnesota knows it can’t afford to let a game like this slip away again.

The loss, coupled with Houston’s win, drops the Wolves 1.5 games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference.

“This is make or break time,” forward Kevin Love said. “Not to put more pressure on ourselves, but other players have to step up. Guys have to be ready.”

The Wolves fell to a Hornets squad that entered the game 5-15 on the road this season and coming off a loss in Denver the night before. But against Minnesota, New Orleans took advantage of miscues on both ends of the floor that had been uncharacteristic of the Timberwolves in the past two weeks.

Minnesota turned the ball over 17 times offensively and shot 5-for-23 from 3-point range, while defensively the Wolves gave up easy baskets thanks to breakdowns in their help defense. Coach Rick Adelman said the Hornets didn’t necessarily make difficult baskets; instead, they took advantage of the Wolves’ miscues.

He said it didn’t have anything to do with Minnesota putting different combinations of personnel on the floor in Rubio’s absence. He said their defensive sets are nothing new in practice—the Wolves (21-21) simply didn’t execute.

“Weak side help has to be there. We’ve drilled enough on that,” Adelman said. “We know those responsibilities. You can’t use that as an excuse. That may beat you with a play, but they were beating us with breakdowns.”

New Orleans escaped with a win at Target Center despite big games from Wolves center Nikola Pekovic and forward Kevin Love. Love, who missed Friday’s game with back spasms, stepped in as if he didn’t miss a beat for much of the game. He had had a double-double at halftime and finished with 31 points and 14 assists—his 14th 30-point effort of the season tied Tony Campbell’s team record set in 1989-90.

Pekovic was equally strong, finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds on the night. He had six offensive rebounds, a big reason why the Wolves held a 19-10 advantage in second chance points.

Meanwhile, guard Luke Ridnour finished with 14 points and 10 assists while getting his first start at point guard since Jan. 10—over that span, he started at off the ball alongside Rubio in the back court. Wayne Ellington, who got 25 minutes of playing time at shooting guard, finished with 12 points.

But New Orleans took advantage of Minnesota’s miscues. The Hornets held the lead from the 9:28 mark of the second quarter all the way to the 9:03 mark of the fourth, when a pair of Love free throws tied the game at 74-74. But New Orleans (10-31) went on an 11-0 run over the next four minutes to take control.

“We got a little stagnant sometimes,” Ellington said. “We didn’t move the ball as much as we would have liked to. We have to pick it up. We have a big road trip ahead of us, and we have a lot of opportunities to redeem ourselves.”

The Hornets made eight free throws in the final 20 seconds to ice the game.

New Orleans center Chris Kaman, who was 0-for-10 in Minnesota’s 87-80 win over the Hornets in January, finished with 20 points and six boards on the night. Jarrett Jack had 17 points and seven assists, Greivis Vasquez had 12 points and Marco Belinelli had 11 points.

The Wolves have an off day on Sunday before heading to Phoenix to kick off their seven-game road trip. Love said there are no excuses, nor will there be moving forward. In order to stay in the playoff hunt, the Wolves must stress accountability.

“I can’t stress enough how much guys have to step up,” Love said. “We have to shoot the ball better, we have to hit people, we have to be the hardest working team. We have to keep moving.”

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