MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —Ricky Rubio is gone, and he won’t be back this season.
It didn’t take long for the lowly New Orleans Hornets to show the Minnesota Timberwolves just how much they will miss him.
Chris Kaman scored 20 points and the Hornets snapped a four-game losing streak with a 95-89 victory over the Timberwolves, who found out earlier Saturday that Rubio is out for the year with a knee injury.
Jarrett Jack had 17 points and seven assists for the Hornets, who won for the 10th time all season thanks to 28 assists on 39 buckets.
Kevin Love had 31 points and 16 rebounds after missing the previous game with back spasms, but the Timberwolves couldn’t shake the disappointment of losing their flashy sparkplug in time to beat the Hornets.
“It’s contagious, not only with the passing and the flair and everything but just being around him,” Love said. “He’s great for the team. We’re going to miss that. That’s not something you can replace as far as personality goes. But as far as play goes, we can have other guys play big.”
The score was tied at 74 with nine minutes to play when the Hornets went on an 11-0 run to pick up their fifth road win of the season.
“Look, we’re in no position to look at any win as anything other than a jewel,” coach Monty Williams said. “To come out and win on the road after a back-to-back says a lot about our young guys. We needed it, but we need them all.”
Missing their primary ball-handler and offensive sparkplug, the Wolves turned the ball over 17 times, which led to 25 Hornets points.
Greivis Vasquez scored 12 points for New Orleans, which had dropped eight of its last 10 games. He scored five points and assisted on another bucket in the late surge that gave the Hornets an 85-74 lead with 4:55 to play.
Love scored eight points during a 13-4 surge that cut it the deficit to two points with 18 seconds to play. But Jack and Marco Belinelli hit some clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
The Timberwolves just didn’t have the sizzle that has made them one of the most entertaining watches in the league this season. That energy and buzz was taken away when Rubio hit the deck late in the game against the Lakers on Friday night and tore the ACL in his left knee.
“It’s devastating,” Martell Webster said. “But we’ve got to bounce back from it.”
In their first game without their floor leader and tone setter, everyone seemed to be searching, for the right combinations on the floor, the right rotations on defense and the easy shots on offense that Rubio so often set up for them.
They looked much more like the team that went 32-132 over the previous two seasons than the one that entered Friday night’s game against the Lakers as the eighth seed in the West.
“It’s like we reverted back to a long time ago,” coach Rick Adelman said. “We’re not going to get it done that way.”
Adelman dug deep into his bench, playing Wayne Ellington more than 10 minutes for the just the second time in 15 games and second-round draft pick Malcolm Lee made his NBA debut after missing most of the first two months because of knee surgery. Luke Ridnour moved over to the starting point guard and Webster started at shooting guard. The backcourt combined to go 6 for 18 for the game.
Kaman had his way with Nikola Pekovic early, hitting an array of soft jumpers and layups off of some beautiful interior passing. His jumper from the elbow capped an 8-0 run that gave New Orleans a 61-50 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Wolves battled back to tie it at 74 three minutes into the final quarter, but Vasquez hit a teardrop in the lane, fed Gustavo Ayon for an alley-oop and hit a 3-pointer during the 11-0 run to bury Minnesota.
The Hornets have had injury issues of their own, with key players like Eric Gordon, Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry missing big chunks of time this season.
“If they had Ricky Rubio, who knows what it would’ve been like,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “But I could say that same thing about us. If we had Eric Gordon, Jason Smith, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor, we’d be a different team, too. So you can do the ifs all day long.”
Pekovic finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds and Ridnour had 14 points and 10 assists for the Wolves.
NOTES: The Timberwolves announced a crowd of 20,123, the first time in franchise history the Wolves have had back-to-back home crowds topping 20,000 fans. They have sold out eight times this season, the most since 2003-04. … Ridnour missed his first free throw attempt of the night, snapping a string of 40 straight.
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