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Timberwolves at HEAT Official Game Thread and Preview

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(Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon)

The Miami HEAT and Minnesota Timberwolves square off tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena. The HEAT (15-6) enter off of a blowout victory Saturday night. The Timberwolves (12-10) lost last night in Orlando. Tip off is set for 7:30 PM on Sun sports; coverage starts at 7 PM.

1. As we write this, we still don’t know if Ricky Rubio will play tonight with the Wolves possibly holding him out of back-to-backs as he gets back into game shape. How does the game change if he plays?

*Update: Looks like Rubio will not play*

Couper Moorhead: Before Kevin Love came back, the Wolves were one of the league’s 10 worst offenses. When Love returned, the offense got a nice boost, but it was still middle of the pack. But in the 18 minutes Rubio played the other night, the Wolves were scoring with the efficiency of a Top-5 team. That probably won’t continue as Rubio’s sample size grows, but it’s a fine illustration of how important he is to making that team work. Rubio will eventually get back to providing defensive value, but few teams needed a shot of playmaking more than Minnesota, and Rubio offers that in just about any on-court situation imaginable.

Danny Martinez: For starters, we all have a lot more fun. Ricky Rubio is fascinating to watch. When he’s on the floor you have to be ready because he’ll make the most ridiculous pass you’ve ever seen. Then he’ll top it two minutes later.

For the Timberwolves, his presence makes a big difference. Rubio gets teammates easy buckets. Last season, only four players averaged more assists leading to baskets at the rim. None of those four had an assist to turnover ratio that came close to Rubio’s. He’s a supremely gifted playmaker. 2. The Wolves haven’t played Kevin Love much at center, and when they have results have been a mixed bag. Will Rick Adelman go small against Miami or will he stay big with Nikola Pekovic?

Couper: They won’t change their starting lineup, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adelman run out the occasional Love-Kirilenko frontcourt, if only because Kirilenko is capable, relatively speaking, of defending LeBron James at the four. The bigger issue isn’t how Adelman will play his frontcourt – even with Derrick Williams getting minimal minutes – its his options in the backcourt. With or without Rubio, Adelman still has to give minutes to Barea, Luke Ridnour and Alexey Shved, none of whom are well disposed to defending Dwyane Wade. They have Malcolm Lee and Josh Howard for that, but the HEAT are adept at seeking out mismatches.

Danny: It depends on the context of the game. There are plenty of lineups that the HEAT employ that Adelman can counter with Love at the five. But I don’t see why Adelman would go out of his way to limit Pekovic’s minutes. Pekovic is a strong finisher and rebounder. His rolls to the rim cause defense to collapse and opens up space for shooters. Doses of Love at the five might make some sense, but I don’t think it’s a must for the Timberwolves to succeed.

3. Udonis Haslem’s shot hasn’t just been falling more, it’s simply looked better. Do the HEAT need him to get back to shooting 40+ percent from mid-range?

Couper: I wouldn’t go as far as to say the HEAT need it to happen immediately, but it would be nice. Haslem is finishing better at the rim this season, particularly as the roll man in pick-and-rolls; a good enough fit for what Miami needs, but the longer his shot looked suspect the more the league was going to catch up and give him a little more space on the perimeter. Right now Haslem isn’t affecting the floor spacing as much as you might think, but since he fills the Chris Bosh role of being the offensive safety-valve at the end of possessions, those open looks eventually need to fall at a decent clip just to keep the offense flowing. The last few games are as good a sign as any – Haslem also starting shooting better around the mid-point of last season.

Danny: At this point it might be more of a luxury with for HEAT. Haslem’s rebounding numbers are still great and he’s been able to convert shots at the rim again after a down season a year ago. His defense is still solid. Haslem will rarely be paired with a frontcourt partner who can’t stretch the defense out. Spacing the floor a little more for the offense would be great, but it’s hardly necessary.

4. Two years ago, LeBron James was criticized for not being able to back down Jose Juan Barea. If that situation comes up, will he have that problem again?

Couper: I’ve always likened that situation to LeBron attempting to back down a door stop. As much work as LeBron had put into his post game up to that point, he was still figuring out how to attack different defensive looks from the block. When he was lucky enough to get single coverage for a few moments, he was used to being able to back down his defender or take them off the dribble after facing up to the rim. Facing up a small guard is asking for your dribble to be tipped and as we mentioned before, back down someone with a much lower center of gravity than you is often an impossible task. LeBron’s footwork on the block is much better these days, so I doubt this will be an issue.

Danny: I doubt it. James’ work in the high post has improved greatly. With a smaller defender like Barea, he’s just as likely to back him down as he is to pass over him to an open shooter in the corner. Barea’s size can create leverage problems, but I don’t expect James to struggle with it too often.

5. Will the HEAT need a last-second lob to win the game?

Couper: As much as I enjoy watching Minnesota when Rubio is playing, they might not yet have the ball movement and shooting typically required to beat a Miami defense running on all cylinders. Love and Pekovic will have their share of offensive rebounds, enough to get fans once again clamoring for more size on the HEAT, but for things to be tied in the final minutes we’ll have to see the Wolves make those second and third passes after the initial offensive actions more consistently than we’ve seen.

Danny: I’m all for fun. Another lob to end the game would be a lot of fun. I doubt the HEAT find themselves in a similar position, though. And if they do, I doubt the Timberwolves let the lob beat them again.

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Infernoian Preview

Today's preview is done by Goodyou and JulesWinnfield. Great job!

1. As we write this, we still don’t know if Ricky Rubio will play tonight with the Wolves possibly holding him out of back-to-backs as he gets back into game shape. How does the game change if he plays?

Goodyou: As we saw against Dallas, the game changes dramatically when he's on the court. His playmaking allows him to take a lot of the pressure off guys like Kirilenko, Ridnour and Barea. His ability to get Pekovic and Williams involved on the offensive end becomes vital when Love is not on the floor, and his ball movement and spacing opens up a lot of opportunities for teammates. Rubio shines at creating plays in the half court, something Miami has struggled to defend, so it will be interesting (if he plays) to see how Miami reacts. To sum, Rubio brings a totally new dynamic of playmaking to a team that desperately needs it, and, without him, Minnesota will struggle to make plays without Roy, and if Love is not 100%.

JulesWinnfield: He does wonders for the Wolves' offense, delivering crisp passes and court vision matched by few in this league. Last season Rubio put up 12,12 and 6 against the Heat but we did force him into committing five turnovers in a game that was very close. When he's on the court the offense is more calm and efficient. His ability to involve everyone, especially the big men, gives them good looks in an otherwise struggling offense (looking at the FG numbers).

2. The Wolves haven’t played Kevin Love much at center, and when they have results have been a mixed bag. Will Rick Adelman go small against Miami or will he stay big with Nikola Pekovic?

Goodyou: Will he go small? Probably not, I mean, you pretty much answered your own question. The results have been lackluster when Love is holding down the fort at the center position. Without Roy, and (probably) Rubio, the only real advantage Minnesota holds over Miami is their size. The point of going small is to draw out the other team's bigs to create a mismatch. However, most of Miami's bigs are more comfortable guarding the ball on the mid-perimeter than in the key anyways. Their best chance to win is if they pound the ball inside with Love, Pekovic, and Kirilenko. They're logic is flawed if they think they can play small (without their two best playmakers) against a team who won a championship doing just that.

JulesWinnfield: I believe he'll go big, especially since Pekovic has grown into a pretty impressive center. The Timberwolves' only chance to win (or come close to winning) the game is by trying to dominate the paint. Playing small will go into the Heat's favor, removing any previous inside advantage (except for Love's inhuman rebounding). Minnesota posses currently the worst 3PT% in the league at 28.9%, which will probably give Miami some kind of relief. Defending the three has been a recurring problem this season.

3. Udonis Haslem’s shot hasn’t just been falling more, it’s simply looked better. Do the HEAT need him to get back to shooting 40+ percent from mid-range?

Goodyou: Do they need to? No. Will it help? Absolutely. Haslem has apparently found his jumper again (its always in the last place you look!), which, if it keeps up, will open up even more space for Bosh, Wade, and 'Bron. Although undervalued, Bosh and Haslem actually had a pretty decent two man game last year. If Haslem can keep knocking down those mid-range shots it gives Bosh a bit more space to face up in the post and drive to the basket without worry about an immediate rotation from the help big. The HEAT don't need him to shoot the ball well to be successful, however, every basketball player knows that when your shooting well every other part of your game improves that day. So, if his shot continues to fall you expect to see longer minutes for Haslem, with better production both offensively, and defensively.

JulesWinnfield: They don't necessarily need him too but it would definitively be appreciated. By getting back into a shooting flow, Haslem could open up the floor more and he would also attract defenders attention instead of being, occasionally, ignored outside 12-15 ft. Haslem had problems with his shot last year as well, but the Championship was still ours. This year, being harder to defend the title, an improved shot would definitively ease the Heat's and some fans minds.

4. Two years ago, LeBron James was criticized for not being able to back down Jose Juan Barea. If that situation comes up, will he have that problem again?

Goodyou: Um, no. No he won't.

JulesWinnfield: Not at all. But he doesn't need to prove anything to anyone, currently.

5. Will the HEAT need a last-second lob to win the game?

Goodyou: I hope so! Minnesota and Miami (obviously) are two of my favourite teams. So, as a fan, I would love to see the game go down to the wire. However, I don't think it will. Assuming Rubio won't be playing, and I'm unsure on Love's condition,I just don't think Minnesota has the pieces to keep up with the HEAT. But, hey, any team can win on any night (ask the Wiz) so who knows. Hope its a good one though!

JulesWinnfield: No, that would probably mean that they didn't play a particularly good game. Don't get me wrong, the Timberwolves are a decent team but with them coming off a game the night before in Orlando and the Heat having 2 days off before should give them absolutely no excuses.

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I specifiically bought tickets for tonights game to watch Ricky Rubio, my second favorite player (behind Rio obviously).

Stern better fine Adelman for this

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I specifiically bought tickets for tonights game to watch Ricky Rubio, my second favorite player (behind Rio obviously).

Stern better fine Adelman for this

Why couldn't they just rest him against Orlando and have him play the Heat instead?

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I'm so interested into seeing what HEAT squad will show up.In the event that we get the defensive dominant HEAT for four quarters,MIAMI should be able to once again rest it's starters in the fourth...TEAM HEAT since '88!

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Why couldn't they just rest him against Orlando and have him play the Heat instead?

Better to get him playing against lesser competition then having him play against the world champs I guess.

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Why couldn't they just rest him against Orlando and have him play the Heat instead?

Orlando deserves a better show from opposing teams since they got sheet of a team

but really Orlando again

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Man I wanted to see Rubio. Wolves are almost never on national television and I don't have league pass.

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Our defense has been pretty good so far. The R Wolves are the leagues worst 3point shooting team but the way teams have been shooting vs us so far, I wouldn't be surprise if anything wired happens

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    • By Joe B.
      Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
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      In addition to being one of the best offensive teams in the league, the Rockets are also one of the faster teams, averaging 101.17 possessions per game. As Coach Spo said after practice on Sunday, “It feels like sometimes they have six players on the floor. It’s the Phoenix Suns of 2003-2004 on steroids.”
      3: How can Miami combat Houston’s dynamic offense?
      Couper: Put pressure on them with Hassan Whiteside. The more bodies that have to deal with Whiteside on the glass, the fewer bodies that can leak out in transition and get set up for the quick threes which make up so many of Houston’s explosive runs. Unlike the Warriors, however, who lack athleticism and length at their center position, the Rockets have their own young athlete in Capela, who is likely to play after missing about a month. Still, Whiteside should have an advantage as far as bulk goes, so him slowing Houston down with relentless energy could pay dividends for Miami over the course of a full game. 
      Then there’s all the details. Miami will have to always be ready to help on James Harden without fouling, since he’s so dynamic at getting into the paint, but when the Rockets are able to run they have to be highly aware of where all the shooters are on the floor. Similar to the Warriors game last week, the Rockets have the personnel to punish every mistake in the open floor.
      Lastly, the HEAT can’t turn the ball over. You don’t want to be too safe with your offense because then you’re hurting yourself too much on that end, but live-ball turnovers will dig you a hole in a hurry against elite, up-tempo offenses.
      Joe: It’s easier said than done, but Miami has to run Houston off the three-point line. If the Rockets get into a nice rhythm from deep, you’re essentially done for. Case in point: Houston set a regular season record with 24 made 3-pointers against the Pelicans on December 16.
      Stopping Harden from getting into the paint will also be a tall task, as the 27-year-old is among the league's best with 11.2 drives per game. After practice on Monday, Dion Waiters talked about how difficult it is to play aggressive defensively on Harden due to his ability to draw fouls. As such, the HEAT will have to be very smart when guarding the dynamic playmaker.
      On the flip side of the ball, Miami should have an advantage against a Rockets defense that has tallied a 110.7 rating over its last seven games. Hopefully Dragić and Whiteside can put pressure on Houston in the pick-and-roll game, which in turn should lead to open guys on the perimeter.
      At the end of the day, the HEAT will be put to the test on nearly all fronts. Luckily, the team has had some solid days of work since its last game on Friday against the Bucks, so we’ll see how it all pans out on Tuesday night.

      Highlights:
      February 2-HEAT at Rockets
      November 1-Rockets at HEAT
      Game Notes:
      The HEAT are 11-30, while the Rockets stand at 32-11. Miami has won six of seven against Houston at AmericanAirlines Arena. Goran Dragić leads the HEAT in points (19.0) and assists (6.4) per game. James Harden leads the Rockets in points (28.4), assists (11.7) and rebounds (8.2) per contest.  
      Efficiencies (Rank):
      HEAT Offense: 100.6 (29) HEAT Defense: 105.0 (13) Rockets Offense: 112.6 (3) Rockets Defense: 105.7 (19)