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11-25

Timberwolves-Hornets Preview

The Associated Press

Facing a Minnesota Timberwolves' team minus injured star Kevin Love might provide the New Orleans Hornets a good opportunity to extend their season-high winning stretch.

The Hornets look to avenge last month's home loss to the visiting Timberwolves with a fourth consecutive victory Friday night.

Paced by the return of guard Eric Gordon and some solid defensive play, New Orleans (10-25) has a chance to match its longest winning streak of last season on Friday.

After winning at Dallas in overtime and beating Southwest Division-leading San Antonio, the Hornets won 88-79 over Houston on Wednesday. Greivis Vasquez, Jason Smith and Roger Mason each scored 17 as New Orleans used a 22-2 run to overcome a 10-point second-half deficit and improve to 2-19 when trailing after three quarters.

"I'm glad we got one of those under our belt," center Robin Lopez said. "We just have to continue to build from there."

While New Orleans has held opponents to 87.7 points per game during its win streak, it showed Wednesday it can prevail when Gordon struggles.

The seventh overall pick in 2008, Gordon's career has been plagued by injuries, but the Hornets are 4-2 while he's averaged 15.6 points since making his season debut Dec. 29 after missing the first 29 games with a knee injury. He was held to five points on 2-of-12 shooting versus Houston. However, Mason and Smith helped the Hornets to a 42-22 advantage in bench scoring even though leading scorer Ryan Anderson (17.2 points per game) was held without a point on 0-of-7 shooting.

"I think everybody else is waiting to see if Eric's going to carry us, and we're just not that kind of a team," coach Monty Williams said. "Everybody needs to bring their game."

Vasquez has averaged 18.9 points on 52.5 percent shooting and 10.6 assists while the Hornets have won five of eight. He had 15 with a career-high 17 assists in a 113-102 loss to Minnesota on Dec. 14.

Though Love had a modest 14 points and nine boards in that contest, not having to face the All-Star this time could benefit New Orleans.

The Timberwolves (16-16) have dropped two of three since Love was lost for eight to 10 weeks after breaking his right hand for the second time. Minnesota had already been dealing with knee injuries to Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and Malcolm Lee.

"Obviously, we hope (Love is) back soon but we've got to keep pressing forward," guard Luke Ridnour said. "The games, nobody takes it easy on you because you've got guys out. You've got to get ready to go anyway.

"Guys have been in and out all year, so we can't use that as an excuse.''

Minnesota hopes guard J.J. Barea will return after back spasms kept him out of Wednesday's 106-84 loss at Oklahoma City. Rookie Alexey Shved scored 18 while Nikola Pekovic added 17 with 10 rebounds as the Timberwolves matched their second-lowest point total of the season.

The 6-foot-11 Pekovic has produced in Love's absence, averaging 21.0 points and 14.3 boards in the last three games. He scored a career-high 31 at New Orleans last month and has averaged 21.0 points on 67.5 percent (27 for 40) shooting his last three games versus the Hornets.

It's uncertain if Minnesota assistant Terry Porter will be in charge for a third straight game while coach Rick Adelman deals with a personal matter.

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