NEW ORLEANS - The Timberwolves sure could have used somebody thundering over that proverbial hill in Friday night's 104-92 loss at New Orleans.
They led by 18 points in the first quarter and trailed by 15 in the fourth on a night when their healthy players dwindled to nine after J.J. Barea and Lazar Hayward didn't play because of injuries. They forged ahead without coach Rick Adelman for the third consecutive game, too.
They have lost Kevin Love for the next two months or more, although the exact clock doesn't start ticking until his hand doctor himself recovers from knee surgery sometime next week.
Barea is in Dallas seeking treatment on his back from his own doctor and very well might wait for the team to come to him Monday rather than he go to them. Hayward woke up too sick to play Friday, and Ricky Rubio remained limited to fewer than 22 minutes of action.
Through it all, the Wolves have recited how the league -- and the games -- stop for no team, how nobody is coming over that hill to save them. That's barring, of course, a miraculous trade or an astute free-agent signing.
"Oh, we could use somebody, but that's what happens in this league," said assistant coach Terry Porter, who moved over to Adelman's head coach's seat for the third consecutive game. "We just have to lean on each other more, trust each and try to get it done."
The Wolves offense operated nearly flawlessly for a quarter on Friday and their defense held the Hornets without a point for nearly six minutes during a 16-0 run that allowed them to build leads of 25-9 and 29-11. Then everything changed.
A Hornets team in the midst of an 11-game losing streak when the Wolves visited a month ago now has beaten San Antonio, Houston and Minnesota in the past week.
The Hornets won their fourth consecutive game by getting physical with an opponent that played essentially eight guys while they used all of the 13 they dressed.
They pressured the Wolves' three healthy guards and muscled Nikola Pekovic, limiting the same guy who scored a career-high 31 points the last time to 18 points after he had scored 10 in the first quarter alone.
"First quarter, we executed offense so well, got a lot of layups," Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "Not shots, but layups. In the second half, I don't think we had even one easy layup. They covered it and we stop executing our offense."
The Hornets changed the game with a 30-15 third quarter when they went from six points behind at halftime to take a 70-60 lead in the quarter's final seconds. Third-year point guard Greivis Vasquez picked them apart repeatedly with pick-and-roll plays in which he found big men Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith for open shots or scored himself for an 18-point, 13-assist night.
"They destroyed us in the pick-and-roll," Rubio said.
Back under .500 by a game now, the Wolves (16-17) played at times with only one true guard on the floor. The Hornets finished the third quarter with a 15-5 flourish that occurred mostly when Porter went with a big lineup that featured Derrick Williams as a quasi-shooting guard.
"We've got to do with what we have," Williams said. "We're all playing a little bit of shooting guard out there. We've just got to keep playing. With nine guys it's tough, but nobody can say we're not playing hard."