Minnesota Timberwolves (12-10) vs. Miami Heat (15-6)


Order was restored in the NBA Saturday night at least for the time being, with the Miami Heat properly thumping the Washington Wizards 102-72. It was the kind of game the defending champs should play against the worst team in the league, though I’d be lying if I said I was a bit disappointed Miami didn’t win by more. Games like this, where only LeBron James scores over 20 points (23) and neither Chris Bosh nor Dwyane Wade broke the 27 minute mark, it’s at the same time why we watch this team (the crushing of the weak, the unbridled power)  and why we as Heat fans hate the regular season sometimes. You beat up on a bad team, sit the stars after the third quarter, let Norris Cole get 20 or so minutes in and maybe even get a Dexter Pittman sighting. It doesn’t exactly sound like a worthwhile expense. Pretty much the way of things when the team can go thermonuclear at any given moment.

So now that’s over with, it’s .though nice to have practices in the form of games. I don’t mean to disparage the Wizards, they’re just really bad and their best player, John Wall, wasn’t playing. It was supposed to be like this. It’s their own fault anyway, they’re the ones who had the audacity to beat the Heat. Good win, everyone shake hands, let’s go get a smoothie. It gave the role players a good run, Cole got some safe minutes to let him grow, and none of the big guys got too used up. So it’s on to the next one, as a wise man once said.

Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel wrote an interesting piece that could be very depressing for Miami fans if what happened in the summer of 2010, didn’t happen. He talked of how in the next week we’ll see three of the great young stars in the league facing Miami, all three of whom were drafted after Michael Beasley in the 2008 NBA Draft. Kevin Love (picked 5th) leads his Minnesota Timberwolves in, then Russell Westbrook (4th) comes in with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and O.J. Mayo (3rd) leads a Dirk Nowitzki-less Dallas Mavericks against Miami next weekend. All of these guys have all-world talent and all are turning out better than Beasley did. Perhaps it was the temptations of South Beach that did Bease in, maybe it was just as simple as he didn’t have the drive at that age to be Dwyane Wade’s running mate, who knows what happened. He could have been something else with the blend of talent, size and speed he had and if not for the machinations of Pat Riley, it would hurt to see these next few games. At least he’s a really cool guy though.

This game coming up against Minnesota should be a good one. Kevin Love is an amazing player, a dream player for any coach. All he does is hustle every night, rebound better than anyone, shoot the lights out and defend with verve and intensity. Plus he rocks a totally sweet beard. The T-Wolves present a problem for the Heat, in the form or rebounding prowess. Despite coming back earlier than thought possible from a broken hand suffered from being a badass and doing knuckle pushups, Love got right back to the board game with 13.7 per game. It would be second in the league if he qualified in minutes played, and he’ll easily be top five in rebounding by the end of the season. In particular it’s the offensive glass these Wolves beat to death – both Love and Nikola Pekovic average over three offensive rebounds a game (3.9 and 3.2) and Andrei Kirilenko grabs 2.2 per game. Chris Bosh leads Miami in offensive rebounds per game at 2.1, LeBron is next at 1.4. Basically, Minny is going to get putbacks all night. Miami just needs to make all their shots.

What happened last time: They played once last season, a 103-101 Miami win on December 30th. Dwyane Wade made the go-ahead bucket with four seconds left in regulation and the game ended with Wayne Ellington missing a 21-footer. The final play was actually an offensive rebound, possibly a portent of things to come. As ever LeBron led the way with 34 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, Chris Bosh was 20-9, Wade had 19 and Norris Cole was in his early season hotness with 12. NIkola Pekovic hadn’t emerged as a legit post defender so of all people Darko Milicic started. Think about that – four of the top five picks in the 2003 Draft started the same game, and Carmelo Anthony was the one missing. Love had 25-12 to lead the team and Ricky Rubio came off the bench, flashing that brilliant Spaniard smile and some sweet game to the tune of 12 points and 12 assists. Oh, and Michael Beasley started for the Wolves, scoring four points on 2-of-6 shooting. It was close because the  Wolves had size and won the rebounding battle 49-42 including 12 offensive boards. They’re better than that this year, and I’m not so sure Miami is.

Who to watch for: Kevin Love, of course. He might be quickly becoming the most underrated player in the game. He’s probably the best power forward (when LeBron is playing on the wing) with a game that has no limits, and he has a chip on his shoulder. Part of that comes from his own boss, who made dumb statements about how Love wasn’t a franchise player, not worth a max deal. Because people score 26 and pull down 14 boards a night by accident. Good thing he didn’t listen to them about shooting 3’s, the guy is amazing. Likely we’ll see him and LeBron face off, and that’s just exciting. You know Love is going to bring his best and hopefully he pushes James to the limit. LeBron going his hardest is stunning, I’d love to see how Love handles it.

Ricky Rubio has returned from knee surgery, galvanizing his team. It’s kind of awesome to have a kid like this, who isn’t the best scorer or shooter, but he already rivals Steve Nash in playmaking ability and he’s not even 20 yet. He’s got the mind of a rocket surgeon or brain scientist and decided to use it for something fun instead. How can you not love that? Mario Chalmers will have his hands full. Bill Simmons noted that Rubio and Love together is some of the prettiest ball in the game, they compliment each other so well. Basketball porn, that’s what they make, and it ain’t even illegal if you’re under 18.

That’s about it really, Chase Budinger is out with a hyperextended knee, and though Pekovic is a beast down low on one end he’s limited offensively. The matchup between him and Chris Bosh will be the key, poor Chris having to face either a monstrous Eastern European or one of the strongest players in the league depending on where he plays. His matchup and that of Dwyane Wade against whoever plays shooting guard for the Wolves will be key. Wade needs to dominate his opponent (maybe rookie Alexey Schved, what a name) like the Wade of old to give the Heat a shot. Udonis Haslem needs to play Love angry, not let him get in a groove. Opponents like these are why they held on to UD in the first place. Frustrate, irritate, and let the other guys dominate. Sounds fun.

Why the Heat will Win: They have a leg-up at small forward and shooting guard (I know, they’re positionless, shush) and a strong, athletic point guard who should give Rubio all he can handle. Defensively the Wolves are pretty strong – fourth in the league in opponents’ points per game at 93.7, but Miami is the type of team that rises to the challenge. Personally I’d rather see them challenged – complacency is a horrible disease and it seems to be seeping in this year. Miami is powerful, and even if the Wolves pack a punch themselves, I’d put my money on the guy with the surefire knockout punch. And LeBron looks like he could punch through a wall.

Why the Heat will lose: Kevin Love bosses Chris Bosh around, Pekovic and Love pound the hell out of the offensive glass, Rubio dices the Heat defense to pieces due to poor, slow rotations and miscues, and Wade has an off shooting night. All of these things don’t have to happen, and realistically at least the redounding thing will. The Wolves can lock down the paint when they want to, and that could happen here. Like I said, they’re 4th in opponent’s scoring.

Prediction: Miami 106, Minnesota 105. Yeah, I’ve picked the Heat to win every game this year, and if you think about it I’m doing alright with it. But really, it’s at home and the Heat need to show they can beat teams that are bad match ups for them. I am not confident in this pick, but I have to believe in the might of LeBron and the gumption of a championship team. They know they’ve let the fans down a few times this year, this has to be a big win. Especially on NBA TV Fan Night.