Timberwolves get burned


Sitting very close to the court, one is immediately aware of just how discouraging opposing Dwyane Wade must be. His combined virtues of balance and quickness, explosiveness and physical calm (an incredibly handy array of attributes as far as basketball goes) create a deep feeling of imbalance on the court. His opponents all seem to be listing slightly to the wrong side of the floor at just the wrong moment.

Wade initiates his offense with his low, powerful first step, seemingly intent on simply outracing everybody to the basket. But then he often violently, but fluidly, changes directions, searching for open space, carving the paint into baffling, extreme angles.  Even more disorienting for defenders, at every instant he seems equally able to attack the rim,  pump fake and draw contact, dish to a cutter, or pull up for a gentle fadeaway. On one play on Tuesday, he drove the baseline, only to encounter Ryan Gomes at the front of the rim, ready to either take a charge or challenge the shot. Wade very calmly managed somehow to simultaneously hesitate and explode upward. Gomes was left frozen in place; Wade easily laid the ball in.  

Almost is Sometimes Never

Not surprisingly, Wade's dominance turns out to be a very lucky thing for the Heat. Though not the Sticky Ricky and Shaq helmed shipwreck of a year ago, Wade's supporting cast are a mix of the mercurial and the woefully green. Certainly, they were outplayed by Minnesota's resurgent crew. Wade attacked the basket in the first half, hitting 6-11 field goals and 9-11 free throws and then made plays for his teammates in the second (he had eight assists). On the game's last two possessions, Wade blocked a Randy Foye floater and then forced him into a desperate, leaning three; without him, the Heat seemed pretty ragged.

Nonetheless, none of Wade's immense contributions would have translated into a heat victory if the Wolves' putative stars had played up to their abilities. In many respects, the Wolves continued the confident, energetic play that has made them so much more pleasant to watch these days (and brought them five straight wins).  They moved the ball almost to a fault; Randy Foye continued his hot shooting; for most of the game they played solid, aggressive defense. But two things ruined their shot at a win: the team took only 13 free-throws (that's three less than Wade himself), and Mike Miller and Al Jefferson combined to hit only five of 21 shots.

Mad for Misses

Jefferson's troubles can mostly be filed in the "one of those days" category. He beat the Heat's Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem whenever he wanted, but simply missed the easy looks that followed. Miller, on the other hand, who shot only 1-7, is less comprehensible. Not only is he still missing the open threes that he has hit throughout his career, but he also continues his perplexing, season-long bad habit of passing up open shots, often deferring to less accurate, more tightly guarded teammates. Whether because of his ankle injuries, or a loss of confidence, or just a strange, sudden outburst of South Dakota reticence, Miller has been unable or unwilling to find his balance and shoot without shame.

The final nail in the coffin was a failed gamble by coach Kevin McHale. The Wolves' second unit, that motley crue of Miller, Kevin Love, Rodney Carney, Brian Cardinal and either Foye or Sebastian Telfair, managed to outscore the Heat 15-5 in the second quarter. Hoping for more of this deep magic, McHale sat starters Jefferson and Gomes for much of the fourth quarter. And for most of the quarter, the B team broke even. But they were never able to pull away; as the quarter wound down, they began missing shots and turning the ball over. In order to overcome Wade, the Wolves would probably have needed a 5-10 point cushion going into the game's final minutes; but by the time Jefferson and Gomes made it back on the floor, down by two with just 2:48 remaining, Wade had the Heat offense humming and the tide had irrevocably turned.