No player likes to see another get injured, so while Timberwolves rookie Kevin Love was happy to be starting Wednesday night, he was sorry it had to come at Craig Smith's expense. With Smith sidelined by bruised ribs, Love got the start at power forward against the Atlanta Hawks, his sixth of the season but first since Dec. 5.
That was just two months ago, but to Love it seems much longer.
"It's like I'm a whole other person almost," he said. "It feels good, but I've just got to keep getting better, keep affecting this team in a positive way."
Love has been getting starter's minutes off the bench for the Wolves, but he said he was looking forward to being introduced with the No. 1 unit.
"It's cool," he said. "You grow up telling yourself before you go out and shoot on your court outside, 'And now, starting at whatever ...' It is pretty cool. I started a few games this year, but this will be nice tonight."
Starting also afforded Love the opportunity to get more court time with center Al Jefferson from the beginning of a game instead of at the finish.
Love said the two have gotten more comfortable playing together as the season has gone along.
"We didn't get a chance to work together really in training camp because he was hurt," Love said. "It took us awhile to kind of get used to each other. Now, as long we keep growing, the sky's the limit for us. We're only going to get better. He just turned 24, and I turned 20 in September, so we're only going to get better from here on out."
Beyond Wednesday night, Wolves coach Kevin McHale didn't give any indication of how long Smith might be out.
Smith, who suffered the injury late in the first quarter of Tuesday night's 116-111 victory at Indiana, had started 28 consecutive games for the Wolves.
"We live in the same building," Love said, "so maybe tonight I'll give him a call and see how he's doing."
Win one, lose one: The Wolves weren't the only team with changes to their starting lineup. The Hawks played without leading scorer Joe Johnson, who didn't make the trip to Minnesota because of a possible viral infection.
Maurice Evans got the start at shooting guard for Johnson, who was averaging 21.5 points per game. He also leads the team in assists and minutes played.
Atlanta did get center Al Horford back, however, after a 12-game absence because of a bone bruise in his right knee.
Roughing it: Point guard Sebastian Telfair, who has been slowed by a bruised thigh, threw away the protective pad he was wearing a little more than a minute into the Indiana game.
"It's annoying," he said. "It's helping me when I get hit, but it's slowing me down. If I get hit on it, I get hit on it."
Stat sheet: Love entered the game having hit 25 consecutive free throws over his past five games.
Forward Ryan Gomes needed just one three-pointer to match last year's season high of 59. He has hit at least one three in eight straight games.
The Wolves came into Wednesday's game with a 3-10 record in the second night of back-to-back games, but they were 3-1 since the start of January.
Quote of the day: McHale, on Lakers star Kobe Bryant being cheered by New York fans during his 61-point game Monday night against the Knicks: "Kobe gets probably as much press in New York as the Knicks. And he plays in L.A., as far as you can possibly get away from New York."