NEW ORLEANS - And so it goes for the Timberwolves.
On the eve of Ricky Rubio's expected return after nine months away, the Wolves' 113-102 victory at New Orleans on Friday night was their third in a row and their fifth in the past six games. And yet two-time All-Star Kevin Love sat dejected at his locker afterward, head down, holding his healing right hand in pain.
Love injured the thumb on the same hand that was fractured two months ago with his team leading by 16 points in the final 80 seconds.
X-rays taken at New Orleans Arena came back negative, but news of a swollen but only bruised thumb did little to cheer him on a night when the Wolves started with Malcolm Lee out indefinitely and then lost just-returned Josh Howard for the night because of a hyperextended knee.
"It's tough, man, it's really tough," Love said about the team's seemingly endless string of injuries. "I'm a little down because I'm trying to work through stuff with my hand and then this happens. But we won. That's what's keeping me out of the gutter. I thought I was going to break down if it [the X-rays] had said something else. Luckily it was negative. ... Whatever you want to call it, it's stiff right now, real stiff. It hurts."
Love was injured while reaching to stop Hornets rookie Austin Rivers' driving layup with less than 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining. The injury came one night before Rubio, barring an unforeseen development, will play for the first time since March knee surgery.
"I don't know," Love said when asked if he could play Saturday. "I don't know."
Love made four of 18 shots with that still-healing shooting hand and now is 7-for-35 in his past two games, or since Love had to publicly defuse comments he made to Yahoo! Sports criticizing the Wolves organization for not giving him a five-year contract extension.
As they had against Denver on Wednesday, the Wolves won anyway, with a balanced performance that led an NBA advance scout to call them a mini-version of the Spurs for the way they execute their offense.
This time, they scored a season-high 113 against a young 5-17 Hornets team that has lost six in a row and eight of its past nine.
This time, starting center Nikola Pekovic followed Wednesday's 22-point, 11-rebound game by scoring a career-high 31 points, and starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko delivered a well-timed performance (21 points, 11 rebounds), more evidence that he's worth every penny of his $10 million salary.
"He's terrific," Adelman said. "You just watch the plays he makes. He's all over the court. He's the glue of our team. He really is."
Pekovic ran the floor all night, showing no signs of the injured ankle that bothered him a week ago. His work helped the Wolves clobber the Hornets 70-42 on points in the paint and overcame Rivers' breakout 27-point night.
"Everybody is trying to do more, not just me," Pekovic said. "Everybody tries to step up."
The Wolves' 29 assists were one off their season high, with Luke Ridnour and Barea combining for 15. Barea also had five rebounds, as many as big Pek.
"Pek was doing all the scoring," Barea said, "so I took care of the boards."
It all added up to a three-game winning streak and an 11-9 record, good for sixth place in the Western Conference.
"I'm not concerned because we won," Love said when asked about his thumb. "Two games above .500, the guys played great. I'm not concerned."