The Heat is streaking, winners of four straight games, and looking to improve with the playoffs set to begin in mid-April.
The Minnesota Timberwolves (37-37) have nothing left to fight for, eliminated from playoff contention for the XX straight year, a disappointing season dying slowly over the next two weeks.
And they’ve never been more dangerous.
The T-Wolves have eight games left to play, five of which are against playoff-bound teams including San Antonio, Chicago, Houston, Golden State and tonight’s matchup against Miami (52-22). For those five teams, each game is significant – deciding final seeding, and in the case of the Heat, determining home court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Minnesota looks to salvage what’s left of their season by fully embracing the role of “spoiler.”
If you’ve already dismissed the Wolves, just ask their Wednesday night opponent. The Memphis Grizzlies, in a three-way race for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, got blown out by Minnesota, 102-88.
The Wolves were expected to break the long postseason drought behind the All-Star play of Kevin Love (26 points and 12.6 rebounds per game). Instead, lingering injury issues affected them all season and they’ll be making early vacation plans. But the team’s strength – a prolific offense that is fourth-best in the NBA – is still going strong, led by Love and guards Kevin Martin (19.2 PPG) and Ricky Rubio (8.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game).
The problem is a porous defense that gives up nearly 104 points per game, fourth-worst in the league. This team has been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde all season, frustrating fans and leading to rampant speculation that Love will look for another team in free agency or try to force a trade (possibly to Los Angles where he played collegiately for the UCLA Bruins). To his credit, the All-Star has downplayed the talk, instead trying to mesh with revolving pieces in the rotation while still putting up gaudy numbers.
Other key players for Minnesota are Nikola Pekovic (who sat out Wednesday’s game but hasn’t been ruled out against the Heat) and rookie Gorgui Deng, a long rebounder/shot-blocker that has been a semi-cult hero for the T-Wolf nation. Former Heat player Ronny Turiaf continues to provide his infectious enthusiasm and rebounding. This tandem of big men could hurt Miami on the boards, a season-long weakness for the reigning champs.
Miami’s own injury issues look to be resolved tonight. Ray Allen, who missed the last five games with a flu virus, practiced with the team and is expected to play. Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and Greg Oden (back spasms) may also be available for the first time in over a week. Their collective absence hasn’t stopped the Heat’s winning ways, with key contributions from James Jones, Rashard Lewis and Toney Douglas helping keep the winning streak going.
But Udonis Haslem, promoted to a starting role, has been the biggest surprise. Keeping Pekovic (if available) Deng and Turiaf off the boards will be a big challenge for Haslem; how he responds is one of the keys to Miami winning a fifth straight game.
Watch the telecast of the game beginning at 7:30 P.M. on Sun Sports from AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a regular updates and for a full recap after the game.