NEW ORLEANS - After an exhaustive Star Tribune investigation, there is absolutely no evidence to support reports that somewhere down a darkened French Quarter alleyway exists a handmade doll with mop-top hair, wispy beard, adorable eyebrows and a straight pin stuck purposely in its knee.
Every wrong turn the Timberwolves have taken since that fateful night last month when Ricky Rubio went down clutching his knee in pain benefits the Hornets, including the Wolves' 99-90 loss on Saturday night at New Orleans Arena.
The Hornets own the Wolves' unprotected first-round draft pick this summer, so every mounting Minnesota loss -- five consecutive now and 13 of 17 since that March 9 game when Rubio was injured -- improves their chance of getting a higher pick.
Before Rubio tore two ligaments in his knee, the Wolves appeared headed toward the playoffs, an achievement that likely would have brought the Hornets a selection in the draft's late teens with a pick they acquired from the Clippers in December's trade that sent point guard Chris Paul to Los Angeles.
Now, if the season ended today, the Hornets very well could possess a top-10 pick and a 1.1 percent chance of winning the draft lottery and the right to pick Kentucky's Anthony Davis, all because the Wolves traded the pick away years ago in an ill-fated deal that brought them ... yup, Marko Jaric.
The Wolves will own a first-round draft pick this summer only if Utah, which is chasing Denver for the West's last spot, makes the playoffs.
The Hornets beat the Wolves for the second time in three games this season, holding them off in the fourth quarter after the Wolves twice chopped a 12-point deficit down to just two points.
But New Orleans responded each time, repelling the Wolves on a night when Jason Smith made 12 of 16 shots and scored 26 points in a power-forward duel with Kevin Love, who answered with 29 points and 12 rebounds of his own. Add Hornets center Chris Kaman's 9-for-10 shooting night and that frontcourt tandem combined to shoot 80 percent.
"I don't know how to explain that; he was just hot," Love said. "I think he hit everything in the first half and just about everything in the second half. He has a good jump shot; the guy can shoot it."
Michael Beasley, back from a sprained big toe, led the Wolves' second unit on a 10-0 fourth-quarter run that turned an 81-69 deficit into an 81-79 game with 8:04 left. When the Hornets scored the next two baskets, Wolves coach Rick Adelman sent starters Love, J.J. Barea and Nikola Pekovic back into the game.
The Wolves got within a basket again, but Kaman scored five points in a row, and the Wolves never got closer than four again.
"There were things we did much better tonight," said Adelman, whose team played its second consecutive game without starting point guard Luke Ridnour, "but we have to put it together."Beasley is back
In his return, Beasley played 30 minutes and scored 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting while wearing a size 18 sneaker, one size bigger than he normally wears, to accommodate the swelling that remains around that toe.
He'd missed the past five games -- and eight of the past 13.
"It felt good," he said. "I stayed in shape. Somebody stepped on my toe and it's still a little sore, but in the thick of the game, my adrenaline was rushing and I didn't really feel it."Now that's a bad month...
The Wolves now are 0-4 this month and haven't won a game in April since 2009, Love's rookie season. They lost their last seven games in 2010 and their final 15 last season. "We'll win one," Love said. "We've got [nine] left. We'll get one."Hornets missing 2 starters
The Hornets played without starting point guard Jarrett Jack, who missed his third consecutive game because of a sprained foot, and center Emeka Okafor, who hasn't played since Feb. 10 because of a sore knee.