It has been a tough start to the season for the Minnesota Timberwolves: slowly easing guard Ricky Rubio into action, taking hot and cold starts from forward Kevin Love (who is recovering from a hand injury) and testing the waters with rookie Alexey Shved.
“We’ve been able to make a lot of adjustments, but when you start getting people back, you’re making adjustments again because you’re not used to playing with them,” coach Rick Adelman said.
However, there is a playoff buzz around the team.
“They still have enough [without Rubio] to make me lose sleep,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when he learned that the guard would sit out Tuesday’s game.
Though the Wolves fell 103-92 to the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena, the first quarter was a testament to the lethal pieces of the Minnesota squad.
Love had nine rebounds to the Heat’s three in the opening period. By the end of the third quarter, he had tied the entire Heat team with 16.
“You can have two guys block you out, and he has the instincts and the hands to still come up with a rebound even if he’s not outjumping you,” Spoelstra said.
The Wolves’ bigs were a sea of blue under the basket, and if Minnesota’s jumpers weren’t falling, there were six arms waiting to put the ball in — they made 29 of 55 attempts in the paint. Center Nikola Pekovic found his place, adding 18 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota.
In his first season back in the NBA, Andrei Kirilenko posted 22 points in 30 minutes Tuesday.
“He looks like the old Kirilenko. It’s been awhile since we’ve all seen him, but you remember how active he is off the ball,” Spoelstra said. “I think he’s the most dynamic off-the-ball player in the league.”
Adelman says Kirilenko has been the glue for his team.
Even with five players making double-digit contributions, and outrebounding the Heat 52 to 24, the Wolves lack cohesion.
“We didn’t talk to each other, and gave up easy baskets,” Adelman said. “In this league when you give up easy baskets to the home team, then they get rolling.”
Adelman was talking about Monday night’s loss to Orlando, but the same lessons applied Tuesday. The Heat took advantage of a Minnesota team that found itself lost in transition and turned over the ball 19 times.
“The way they played physical tonight as a team, everybody got into it. Five players got into us. I think that’s something we could learn,” Minnesota’s Jose Juan Barea said. “We’ve got to play tough like they did. ... That’s why they’re good.”
Miami cranked up the defense with a season-high 14 blocked shots, and much like the Wolves’ loss to Orlando on Monday, it fell apart for them in the second half.
“We just didn’t play tough enough for all 48 minutes,” Pekovic said. “We had a good first half, and then gave it up in the third quarter. The fourth quarter was too much to make up.”