Minnesota Timberwolves (0-2) vs Miami Heat (3-0)
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Last game: Timberwolves: L, 98-95 vs Milwaukee; Miami: W, 96-95 vs CHA
For the second straight game, Minnesota faces a team coming off a one point decision against Charlotte. (File that under “weird things you don’t actually need to know.”)
The Heat defeated the Bobcats Wednesday night in Charlotte on Dwyane Wade’s controversial final shot.
The Timberwolves looked frustratingly like last year’s Timberwolves for much of Tuesday against the Bucks before rallying to lose by three.
The Key Questions
#1. How focused will Miami be?
When Miami roared out of the gates in their first two games against Dallas and Boston, the general consensus seemed to be “holy crap…they are going to go 66-0.”
While the Heat certainly looked like world beaters in those games, people seemed to forget how fired up the Heat were to play A) the team that beat them in the Finals and B) their oldest rivals in Boston. (HA! See what I did there? Oldest rivals? Haaa…never mind.)
So it shouldn’t really have been a surprise that Miami came out flat against a Charlotte team that wasn’t picked to pose much of a threat to anyone. After all, it was the second night of a back to back. They were on the road against an inferior team, and they had just won a huge home opener the night before.
The bad news for Minnesota is that the Heat won’t be on the second night of a tough back to back tonight. The Heat will be well rested and ready to go. Oh and the other bad news is that it’s the Heat, and even playing a mediocre game, they were still able to knock off the Bobcats.
Still, if Miami comes out complacent against the Timberwolves, it certainly can’t hurt, right?
#2. But for real though, what happened against Milwaukee?
Bad things. Even Kevin Love’s monster box score was marred by inefficient shooting numbers (6-18 from the field and a bad last second three that ended up being the difference). Luke Ridnour shot well, but turned the ball over more than he assisted (4 TOs, 3 assists). Barea was 1-9 from the field. Beas was 6-13. Williams was 1-3. Tolliver took only one shot in 21 minutes of play and he missed it.
Again, the Timberwolves looked disturbingly like last year’s model. Hopefully it was an aberration, and Adelman’s return to the bench will be the difference. Hopefully.
#3. How many more moral victories can this team take?
Let’s be completely honest: moral victories suck. While a Timberwolves victory tonight isn’t an impossibility, it certainly isn’t likely. Miami has enough talent to coast to a win against most teams and the Timberwolves need everything to go right to have a chance in this game.
So Minnesota keeps it close through three quarters until LeBron finally kicks it into overdrive and puts them away. The Heat win by 14. Sounds plausible, right? It also sounds disturbingly like last year. The Timberwolves kept losing close games to good opponents until they eventually became so discouraged from the mounting losses that they kept losing, but it wasn’t really very close any more. It would be worse to see that happen this year with an infinitely more talented team.
The Wolves need a win. If they could somehow pull this one out, it would be immeasurably huge to their progression as a team.
The Key Matchups
Different people saw different things from Michael Beasley on defense against the Thunder. Fortunately, I’M writing this preview, and what I saw was a committed defensive effort against an utterly unstoppable offensive force in Kevin Durant. LeBron James is also unstoppable, but in different ways. Where Durant pulls up and punishes you from midrange, LeBron powers to the basket. Where Durant uses his height and his length to his advantage, James uses his speed and strength.
LeBron is yet to attempt a three pointer this season, preferring to use his newfound post moves. Surprisingly, LeBron’s newfound efficiency might work to the advantage of Beasley. Instead of having to move his feet to guard a much faster LeBron on the perimeter, Beasley may be able to focus on trying to keep James out of the paint in the post, which presents a slightly less daunting task. Very slightly, of course.
Kevin Love and Chris Bosh played each other pretty well last season, so again, the biggest question for Love will be how many minutes he plays at power forward and how many he plays at center.
Which brings us to Wade. Is Minnesota’s best option for him Rubio?
I know. Your blood just went a little cold. But Rubio played excellent defense against Westbrook on Monday and Westbrook is considerably faster than Wade. It may be worth a shot. Rubio gambles too much on defense, but the alternatives are Wes Johnson, Barea (who probably won’t be playing due to a minor injury), and oh dear God, I’ve essentially exhausted the entire roster. So…try a zone like Boston did with some success?
Wade may have a big game.
The optimistic view: The Heat are a very, very good team. But even good teams are susceptible to letdowns and the Timberwolves showed Monday that they can scrap against better teams. If tonight’s home crowd can come close to equaling Monday’s, the Timberwolves could be spurred to greater heights and pull off the most important win for the franchise since 2007.
The pessimistic view: The Heat are a transcendently good team, and unlikely to fall to the likes of Minnesota. Even if the Wolves are able to stay with Miami, the sheer talent gap between the teams will eventually decide the game in favor of the Heat.
Team Optimist. Team Pessimist. Choose your side wisely.
Game starts at 7:30 PM on Fox Sports North