Kevin Love walked off the New Orleans Arena floor at the end of shootaround this morning and declared himself fit to play after missing the season's first 18 games because of that fractured left hand.

Love will wear a black glove padded to protect the back of that hand and will come off the bench with how much -- or how little -- he plays determined by Kurt Rambis and how Loves looks and feels.

"I'll leave that up to him," Love said. "It depends on how much time I can wrap my mind around."

Love declared himself "real excited, anxious" to play for the first time for a team that is 2-16 without him.

"Six weeks to sit out, that's a real long time," said Love, who has not played a game since breaking that hand in a preseason game on Oct. 16 in Chicago.

After Thursday's practice, Rambis said the decision to play or not tonight is Love's.

Love said he decided now's the right time after "listening to Brian Cardinal, my body and myself."

Cardinal told him getting game action was the best way to play himself back into shape.

Love said full practices all week -- including getting his hand crumpled against the backboard on Thursday without incident -- has convinced him the hand is fully healed, even if his lungs and legs aren't yet back in game shape.

"Good to have him back," said Wolves forward Al Jefferson, who calls Love his "son." "Always good to play next to Kevin Love."

Love is making his return in the same arena where Jefferson's season finished last season, ended when he tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament late in a game against the Hornets on Feb. 8.

"Nah, not going to think about it," he said when asked his feelings about returning to the scene where he hopped across the court holding his knee after he landed awkwardly on his right leg after trying to block a shot. "Try not to think about it. It could have happened anywhere."

Instead, it happened in the place where Jefferson's family and friends always flock from his Mississippi hometown to see him play.

Jefferson estimates his fan club numbered about 60 for that February game. He expects about 30 to come from Prentiss, Mississippi, tonight.

"That," he said, referring to his injury, "is why they're all not coming back this year."

Love isn't the only guy returning tonight.

Hornets All-Star guard Chris Paul has missed eight games with an ankle injury, but he practiced yesterday and is termed a "game-time decision."

Expect him to play.

"They always come back against us," Jefferson said.