Timberwolves 104, Hornets 92
Kevin Love and Minnesota Timberwolves don't remotely resemble the worst team in the Western Conference when they play the playoff-contending New Orleans Hornets.
Love had 27 points and 17 rebounds, tying a franchise record with his 37th straight double-double, and the struggling Timberwolves recorded their second double-digit win of the season over the Hornets with a 104-92 victory Monday night.
''It shows people, I guess, the potential that we have,'' said Wolves forward and former Hornet Anthony Tolliver, who had 12 points on four 3-pointers. ''The potential's there. We have so many young guys, so many very, very good basketball players on this team. It's just that we haven't put it together.''
Love joined John Stockton and former Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett as the only NBA players to record 37 consecutive double-doubles in the last 25 years.
The injury-riddled Hornets - missing starting center Emeka Okafor (left oblique) and starting small forward Trevor Ariza (right ankle) - are suddenly in a tailspin, having lost five of six since their 10-game winning streak. The latest loss came against a Minnesota squad that won its third road game this season and for only the third time in 17 games overall.
In the only other meeting between these teams in Minnesota on Dec. 27, the Timberwolves shot 53 percent and won 113-98. This time, even though starting center Darko Milicic left the game with a left hip flexor strain in the first quarter and Michael Beasley left in the fourth with a left ankle sprain, Minnesota shot 50 percent, made 11 3-pointers and hit all 25 of its free throws.
In matching the team's consecutive double-doubles record set by Garnett from late in the 2004-05 season to early in 2005-06, Love was 14 of 14 on free throws and had three of the Wolves' 11 offensive rebounds, helping Minnesota score 22 second-chance points.
Beasley, who walked on his own to the team bus and is day-to-day, scored 14 points before he had to be helped off the floor. Johnny Flynn had 13 points, Nikola Pekovic scored 12 and Wayne Ellington added 11 in his return from a two-game absence for personal reasons.
''It was unfortunate we lost Darko and Michael but I thought Kevin played a heck of a game,'' Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. ''John played well and I think we got contributions from everybody.''
Chris Paul had 17 points and 13 assists for the Hornets, who lost their third straight despite being reminded constantly of how poorly they played the last time they met Minnesota (12-39), which is last in the Western Conference.
''We didn't respect that team that had already embarrassed us on their floor, and they came out on our floor and did the same thing,'' said Hornets coach Monty Williams, who was fuming over the 37 points his team gave up in the second quarter to fall behind 60-46 at halftime. ''A 37-point quarter is embarrassing. I don't care who is out.''
David West had 18 points for the Hornets, Marco Belinelli added 15 and Willie Green 11.
Minnesota led 65-46 after opening the second half with Pekovic's dunk and Corey Brewer's 3. The Hornets then went on a 14-2 run in which Paul scored six points to pull to 67-60, but the Wolves uncharacteristically held together and slowly regained momentum, going back up by 12 when Love's putback as he was fouled made it 76-64.
''We were resilient there in the second half,'' Love said. ''We don't have a problem with scoring. ... Our defense just needs to pick it up. More than anything, it was our defense'' that made the difference.
The Wolves opened the fourth quarter leading 82-70 and went on an 11-2 spurt capped by Beasley's dunk that gave them their largest lead, 93-72, with 7:50 to go.
New Orleans got not closer than 10 after that.
''That team there has 12 wins on the season now and two of them have been against us,'' said Paul, whose 300th career double-double was spoiled by the loss. ''They were out there all rah-rah, talking junk and stuff and I guess they deserved it tonight.''
Notes: Hornets F-C Jason Smith returned after a one-game absence because of an illness but did not return to his recent role as a fill-in starter for Okafor. Smith had four points and five rebounds in 17 minutes. ... The Wolves were without G-F Martell Webster (back spasms), who missed his second straight game, and G Luke Ridnour (personal matters), who missed his fourth straight game. ... The Hornets fell to 20-7 at home. ... Minnesota snapped a five-game losing streak in New Orleans.