LeBron James said before the game that he needed to rebound the basketball a little better. He then set a season high for boards in the first half.
With James clearly more engaged Saturday than in recent losses to Detroit and Chicago, the Heat defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 103-82 at Target Center. The Heat plays the Pistons on Sunday before flying to Indianapolis for its highly anticipated showdown with the Pacers.
With the biggest game of the early season only a few days away, the Heat wanted to get its rhythm back in Minneapolis, and it helped that Timberwolves forward Kevin Love did not play because of a death in his family. With Love absent, the Heat was only outrebounded by one (45-44), and James finished two assists shy of his first triple-double of the season. James had 21 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in just 30 minutes after having 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists at halftime.
“That’s the LeBron James I know,” said Dwyane Wade, whose assist to James off the backboard on a fast-break, alley-oop offered a little warmth to this cold-weather city on a day the thermometer reached down to minus-8 degrees.
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The stat-stuffing first half came after James had just 10 total rebounds in his previous two games. James’ 10 rebounds in the first half Saturday were one more than his previous season high for a game.
“We definitely didn’t want to lose three in a row, so it was a good pick-up game after the loss to Chicago, and we did what we wanted to do besides turning the ball over,” James said.
The Heat (15-5) won by 21 points despite 20 turnovers and scored at least 100 points for the first time in six games. It was the longest stretch of games without at least 100 points in a game for the Heat since March of 2011. The Timberwolves (9-11) shot 29.3 percent (24 for 82) from the field, which was a franchise low.
After abysmal shooting last week, Miami returned to its efficient ways against the Timberwolves, going 43 for 78 from the field. The Heat shot 55.1 percent despite going just 4 of 18 from the three-point arc. Wade, who sat out against the Bulls, had 19 points, going 7 of 14 from the field and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line. He played deep into the fourth quarter despite aggravating his right knee injury in the first quarter.
“It was knee to knee,” said Wade, who collided with Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin. “I have no idea how it happened. He was in front of me, but since it’s sensitive there, it took awhile to come back, but I was able to continue.”
Wade isn’t expected to play against Detroit on Sunday and most likely will rest his knees for the big game against the Pacers on Tuesday.
“I’m just going to see how I feel and try to be smart,” Wade said. “I want to play so bad … but I’m going to leave it in the trainers’ and coaches’ hands right now. Sometimes you have to take it out of the player’s hands.”
It was a painful first period for the Heat. In addition to Wade’s incident, Chris Bosh went to the locker room after Shane Battier’s fist inadvertently socked Bosh in the right eye. He returned to finish the game and had eight points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes.
“I just saw a bright fist coming at me,” said Bosh, whose eye was bloodshot after the game. “I don’t have a scratch though. I’ve been hit in the eye so many times, not to have a scratch, that’s all I’m worried about.”
A good sign with the Pacers looming, the Heat’s energy statistics were all above average against the short-handed Timberwolves. Miami had 13 offensive rebounds to go along with 24 fastbreak points and 56 points in the paint.
The Heat’s bench was productive despite Michael Beasley sitting out with a sore hamstring. Back in a reserve role, Ray Allen had 11 points and Rashard Lewis scored 10 and accounted for half of the Heat’s three-pointers. He was 2 of 4 from three-point range.
Martin led the Timberwolves with 19 points, and hulking center Nikola Pekovic had 18 points and 12 rebounds.
A three-pointer by Lewis with 17 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Heat a 19-point lead.
But Corey Brewer, the two-time NCAA champion from the University of Florida, answered with a three-pointer at the buzzer to keep the Timberwolves within reach. That didn’t last long.