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Okafor returns, Ariza shines, Hornets top Wolves

Trevor Ariza scored 18 points, making four 3-pointers, and Chris Paul had 17 points and eight assists to help the New Orleans Hornets breeze by Minnesota 95-81 Friday night and hand the Timberwolves their seventh straight loss.

With leading scorer and starting power forward David West away from the team following a sudden death in his family, the Hornets didn't flinch. They welcomed Emeka Okafor back, broke in Carl Landry and reversed their recent trend of leaky defense with a relentless effort against the frustrated Wolves.

Okafor made an immediate impact with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.

Wes Johnson had 22 points in 43 minutes and Luke Ridnour also scored 22 points for the Wolves, who were badgered all game down low and looked as defeated and discouraged as ever in this dismal season.

The highlight for the Wolves came early in the fourth quarter when Kevin Love grabbed his 10th rebound to extend his double-double streak to 45 straight games and pass Moses Malone for the second-longest since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. Malone also had a 51-game run from 1979-80.

But after Love curled up to protect the ball and the crowd cheered, the Wolves couldn't get across half court in eight seconds and were called for a turnover. Love looked livid.

The Wolves, who beat New Orleans twice previously this season by what Hornets coach Monty Williams called superior mental and physical toughness, had none of either on this night.

They shot 5 for 18 in the third quarter and turned the ball over nine times. The Hornets matched their season high by the end of the period with nine blocks.

Still second in the NBA in scoring defense at 92.8 points per game, the Hornets weren't the same without Okafor, who missed 10 straight games because of a strained left hip. They gave up 100-plus points in eight of their previous 12 games and lost nine of 11 games to go into the All-Star break.

They're 16-0 when they give up 86 points or less.

Even when it appeared the Wolves caught a break on a missed dunk in the third quarter by Okafor — he jammed the ball against the side of the rim instead of stuffing it over — they couldn't take advantage of it. Ridnour went the other way and had his layup swatted when the lanky Ariza — no slouch on defense himself — leaped out of nowhere into the lane.

Perhaps weary of seeing so many shots swatted and his post players being pushed around, Rambis sent recent acquisition Anthony Randolph in for his Wolves debut late in the third quarter.

Struggling second-year point guard Jonny Flynn was back in action for Minnesota after a three-game absence that included the All-Star break. The team wanted him to rest his surgically repaired hip, which has hindered his progress. But the sixth overall draft pick in 2009 seems to have a confidence problem, too. He played 8:18 in the first half and was completely out of whack, committing three turnovers and a foul while missing badly on both of his jump shots.

On one sequence he tried to use a screen by Darko Milicic to run a pick-and-roll but dribbled the ball off his knee and lost it to Jarrett Jack for a fast-break dunk the other way.

Referee Kenny Mauer was back at Target Center for the first time since the Minnesota native slapped five technical fouls on the Timberwolves in a 10-second span, two on coach Kurt Rambis. He didn't use his whistle nearly as much this time.

Notes: Mauer walked by both head coaches during each of their pregame sessions with the media a few minutes apart on opposite ends of the hallway inside the locker room. Reporters chuckled when Rambis and Mauer exchanged greetings, but the coach shot back: "Don't even ask the question. And I'm not referring to anything." Williams also traded hellos with Mauer, then quipped, "I'll be yelling at you later." ... Johnson got extended playing time with the Wolves suddenly short on shooting guards after trading Corey Brewer. Martell Webster missed his second straight game because of a lingering back problem, and Wayne Ellington was away from the team for an unidentified personal issue. ... Landry made his Hornets debut with four points and five rebounds after coming in a trade with the Sacramento Kings for Marcus Thornton.