Tim's Game Preview: Game 42, New Orleans Hornets

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Minnesota Timberwolves (21-20) vs. New Orleans Hornets (9-31) at Target Center

Ricky Rubio did not die. Ricky Rubio will likely be back in a Minnesota Timberwolves uniform at the beginning of next season, still smiling and doing cute, little Ricky things and making Wolves' fans swoon over his awesomeness. And let's face it, even if the Wolves held on to a playoff spot, they likely weren't winning a playoff series and most definitely were not winning a title this season, even with Rubio.

So, why do I feel so sad?

Ricky's ACL injury was definitely a set-back. A dark moment that came just as the Wolves were on the rise. It's the Wolves' marketing slogan, but nevertheless, everyone was beginning to talk about the team in a very positive way. A good portion of that was due to Rick Adelman, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams. But much of it was thanks to the arrival of Rubio. We'd waited two years. The Rubio Bubble was full and our expectations were high.

Somehow, he was able to match them. The dazzling passes we saw on YouTube were suddenly there in person and his basketball IQ was no longer just a mark on a scouting report. He was a real, living, breathing Unicorn. Last night, we got proof that Unicorns get hurt, too. As a fanbase, we were approaching a high that hadn't been reached since 2004, and the crash back down to earth was hard.

Still, there are 25 games left in the 2011-2012 NBA season. The Wolves still have the best power forward in the league, one of the best coaches in the league and 14 other players who need the fans' support more than ever. Now is not the time to jump off of the bandwagon. Against New Orleans tonight, and after the Wolves return from their 15-day road trip, I hope the Target Center is still firmly behind the team.

You know that's where Ricky will be.

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Luke Ridnour is going to have to return to playing point guard and will spend less time at the off-guard spot. Wayne Ellington and rookie Malcolm Lee may see minutes tonight with J.J. Barea still out.

Projected Starting Lineup

C: Nikola Pekovic vs. Chris Kaman
PF: Kevin Love vs. Gustavo Ayon
SF: Martell Webster vs. Trevor Ariza
SG: Wesley Johnson vs. Marco Belinelli
PG: Luke Ridnour vs. Jarrett Jack

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The Wolves still have one of the top frontcourt duos in the entire NBA.

Last 5 Games

New Orleans Hornets (5th in Southwest, 17 1/2 behind SAS; 9th in West, 1/2 gm behind 8th)

Fri, Mar 2: Win vs. Dallas 97-92
Sat, Mar 3: Loss vs. Indiana 84-102
Mon, Mar 5: Loss at Portland 74-86
Wed, Mar 7: Loss at Sacramento 98-99
Fri, Mar 9: Loss at Denver 97-110

Minnesota Timberwolves (3rd in Northwest, 10 1/2 behind OKC; 15th in West, 22 gms behind 8th)

Thu, Mar 1: Loss at Phoenix 95-104
Sat, Mar 3: Win at Portland 122-110
Mon, Mar 5: Win vs. LA Clippers 95-94
Wed, Mar 7: Win vs. Portland 106-94
Fri, Mar 9: Loss vs. LA Lakers 102-105

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After five straight DNPs, Wayne Ellington is going to have to step up and fill in some minutes in the backcourt.

Injuries

New Orleans Hornets

Eric Gordon - Out indefinitely after right knee surgery

Emeka Okafor - Out indefinitely with a sore left knee

Jason Smith - Out with a concussion

Carl Landry - Expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a sprained left knee

Minnesota Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio - Out indefinitely with torn ACL

J.J. Barea - Doubtful with a sprained left ankle

Kevin Love - Questionable with back spasms

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Derrick Williams is going to have to pick up the Wolves' spirits by continuing his terrific play of late.

Noteworthy Stats

  • Ricky Rubio's assist percentage of 38% was the 2nd highest among rookies over the last 10 seasons (Sergio Rodriguez was 1st).
  • Rubio will be the 1st Timberwolves rookie and the 2nd Wolves player (M. Williams) to finish with averages of 8+ assists and 2+ steals per game. Only 4 other rookies in NBA history have accomplished that feat: Phil Ford, Mark Jackson, Tim Hardaway and Brevin Knight
  • In 41 games, Rubio will finish only 20 assists shy of Jonny Flynn's assist total as a rookie (Flynn played in 81 games that season)

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Rick Adelman is definitely going to earn his money during the remainder of this season.

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