Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (16-16) @ New Orleans Hornets (10-25)

The Hornets have dealt with some big injuries to a thin lineup. They’ve also been crushed by the strength of their schedule. The flip side of these facts is that they have players coming back and their schedule can’t get worse — because the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming to town.

Eric Gordon took an offer from the Phoenix Suns last offseason and begged the Hornets not to match. They did and he’s been back for 6 games so far this year. The oft-injured shooting guard struggled in the Hornets’ Wednesday win over the Houston Rockets, but New Orleans is getting big minutes from Gordon, for the time being. He’s played 35, 33, and 28 his last 3.

Hornets probable starting lineup:

PG Greivis Vasquez

SG Eric Gordon

SF Al-Farouq Aminu

PF Anthony Davis

C Robin Lopez

How bad a night was it for Houston? Gordon and Ryan Anderson shot a combined 2-19, totalling 5 points; the Hornets got a scoreless 0-5 night from Austin Rivers, scored 88 points as a team, and they still beat the Rockets.

Anderson’s shooting 38% from the field and 40% from 3 over the last 5 games, averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds and almost 3 3s a game. The Lakers feel they deserve Anderson because they deem Pau Gasol no longer fit for their roster. Trade rumors will continue to fly for the next month or so until the NBA’s trade deadline.

Rivers hasn’t reached double figures in scoring this year and Wednesday was the first time he’s reached the 20-minute mark. Gordon’s return has put Rivers further back on the Hornets’ depth chart, while Vasquez seems to have the starting point guard spot more than locked down.

Indeed, Vasquez has been more than adequate over the Hornets’ last 5, with averages of 18 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds and 52% shooting (almost 2 3s a game on 52% 3-point shooting) helping power the Hornets to a 3-2 record in the new year (4-4 over their last 8).

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Luke Ridnour

SG Alexey Shved

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Dante Cunningham

C Nikola Pekovic

Rick Adelman could return to the Wolves’ bench tonight in New Orleans after being with his hospitalized wife for the last two games. JJ Barea is listed as doubtful for tonight and Kevin Love is, obviously, going to be gone for awhile.

So it is Ridnour, Shved, and Ricky Rubio who will make up the Wolves guard rotation for the foreseeable future. Thin is not the word to describe the Wolves’ perimeter options.

Pekovic only played 27 minutes in the Wolves’ 22 point loss to the Thunder, tallying 17 points and 10 rebounds and making Kendrick Perkins reconsider his own existence before retiring for the night. Pek has more than held the fort down this season, and Davis, Lopez, and Jason Smith shouldn’t be enough to change that.

Derrick Williams followed his single rebound performance against Atlanta, with 11 against OKC. Granted, many were snared during a second half of mostly garbage time, but that’s chartable progress for the young Williams.

Rubio finished his first back-to-back of the season with surprisingly consistent returns: 8 assists the first night, 7 the second — again, many coming during second half garbage time in OKC. He has yet to make a field goal since missing 4 games with back spasms. Although he took 3 at OKC, he passed on a few, too, perhaps exposing a lack of confidence in his jumper. This, too, is progress.

The Wolves hope for more against the Hornets Friday night in New Orleans.

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