Loss to West's worst team adds pressure as Timberwolves hit long road
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The post-Ricky Rubio portion of the season didn't exactly get off to a flying start for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Western Conference's worst team, the New Orleans Hornets, beat the Wolves 95-89 on Saturday at Target Center.
"Just a disappointing game all the way around," coach Rick Adelman said. "Worst game in a long time defensively. They weren't playing as a team defensively."
The Wolves gave up plenty of easy baskets and allowed the Hornets to dish 28 assists in a defensive effort that likely gave the sellout crowd flashbacks to the Kurt Rambis era.
"That was some of the worst defense we played all season," said Kevin Love, who returned from a one-game absence with back spasms to score a team-high 31 points.
The Wolves played like, well, a team that was still reeling from the difficult-to-stomach news their teammate and friend tore his ACL and is out for the remainder of the season.
"That could be part of it," Love said. "But we have to accept it and move on. We are going to miss Ricky, we love having him, he is a great kid, he is going to be back as soon as possible, but he won't be around this season. We have to move on and step up."
"There is no reason for that," Adelman said. "We are who we are."
It was a sloppy, disjointed, 17-turnover effort for the Wolves, who finished their four game homestand 2-2 after riding high with two straight wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trailblazers.
After trailing by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter, the Wolves did get back into it when a Love 3-pointer narrowed the lead to 87-83.
Luke Ridnour connected a layup to make it a two-point game, but the Hornets made all their free throws after the Wolves started playing the fouling game and they never got a chance to tie the game.
The Wolves now embark on a two-week, seven-game road trip that now has added pressure because of the two-game losing streak.
"I hate to put more pressure on us, but this is make-it-or-break-it time," Love said. "So, we have to nut up."
Adelman added, "We have to respond."
Adelman shook up his lineup and rotation by moving Ridnour back to point guard rather than the shooting guard spot at which he had been flourishing in an offense that relies heavily on playing two point guards together for an extra ball handler.
With Ridnour running the point, Martell Webster will assume the shooting guard duties for the time being.
Wayne Ellington got extended run, playing more than 20 minutes for the first time since January. He added the lone spark of the bench and was one of few players that looked capable of hitting water if he threw a basketball off a boat.
"We didn't have a lot of guys making shots," Adelman said. "Wayne was the only guy who came in and made shots. He did a nice job there. But we need everybody."
Further complicating matters is the fact that J.J. Barea is still sidelined with an ankle injury. This left Ridnour and rookie Malcolm Lee as the only healthy point guards on the roster. Adelman had wanted to bring Lee along slowly, but he was forced to throw the rookie to the wolves for his NBA debut.
Lee's debut came with 9:14 remaining in the second quarter with the Hornets up by a point. Lee immediately added energy, attacking the rim but missing a pair of close shots.
In total, Lee played five minutes and looked like a player still trying to grasp the offense.
The Hornets used an 11-0 fourth quarter run to take a 85-74 lead after Love tied the game with a pair of free throws.
25: Seconds remaining in the third quarter when Derrick Williams made his first field goal of the game.
20,000-plus: Fans at Target Center for back-to-back games for the first time in Wolves history.
Barea sat out his second straight game because of a sprained ankle he suffered in Wednesday's win over the Portland Trailblazers.
"I don't know," Adelman said. "Maybe (Monday's game at) Phoenix, but if not, hopefully after that. Because we've got two days off, which is incredible. So, hopefully, he might be (ready). He told me he's hoping for Monday, but if it's not Monday, he's trying to get back for that four games in five nights."
There is an added urgency for Barea to return from injury now that Rubio is shelved for the rest of the season, leaving Ridnour and Lee as the only healthy point guards on the roster.
Barea wasn't available for comment on Saturday but said Friday that he was optimistic that he should be ready in time for the road trip.
"What the (expletive)?"
-- Brad Miller, reacting to the unusually large swarm of media waiting for Adelman to comment on Rubio's injury.
It is gut-check time for the Wolves. The lockout-shortened season has produced some scheduling anomalies, and the upcoming seven-game road trip is definitely one of them.
The trip begins on Monday in Phoenix, where the Wolves lost just 10 days earlier. It will be the second of three games between the teams, with the third and final game on April 9.
From there, the Wolves play Utah, the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento, Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City before they finally come home on March 25 to play Denver.