The Wolves are depleted by injuries and totally removed from contention for a playoff spot. So when the defending champs come to town and J.J. Barea gets into basketball’s version of a fight with a future hall of famer, that kind of steals the show. As the replay makes clear, his foul on Ray Allen wasn’t THAT out of line. He thought he was fouled on the other end going for a layup, and then again when Allen lightly shoved off in the backcourt. So J.J. had enough and put some extra weight — to the extent the little guy has much to throw around — into a blocking foul that perhaps doubled as a body check. Allen fell to the ground and flew up angry.
As is the case with all pro basketball players not named West or Peace (!) it was just a show. Some woofing and “HOLD ME BACK” but no real harm done. But the crowd enjoyed the uptick in feistiness — that is, until Barea was hit with an inexplicable Flagrant 2 and was ejected from the game. That was quickly followed by Adelman’s own technical and a rare departure from Minnesota Nice that had Wolves fans lobbing all kinds of personal insults at the significant contingent of fans donning Miami Red and Black. (This part was actually pretty stupid and made me feel like I was at an NFL game. The Heat fans in my section weren’t provoking anything.)
What had the look of a surprisingly-competitive game (76-70 Miami led) quickly became a rout in favor of the road team. After awarding Allen 3 free throws for the flagrant and technical, Alexey Shved had a 3-pointer waived off for “kicking.” Then Dante Cunningham was whistled for a charge. The Wolves became unglued and Dwyane Wade took over from there. The final score was 97-81.
Some observations from the other 47 minutes and 59 seconds of action:
1. Dwyane Wade was incredible. There was some buzz on Twitter today that LeBron might not play. Miami won a hard-fought game at The Garden yesterday, he was nursing a sore knee and, frankly, the Heat could expect to beat the Wolves in their current form. LeBron played (props to him for doing that) but was noticeably second fiddle to his wingman, Mr. D-Wade. Wade was carving up the lane from the top, often off of Birdman ball screens. He was leaking out in transition where he’s downright unfair. He was doing those dribble-to-the-left jumpers. Wade had 32 points on 15-23 shooting, 7 rebounds and 10 assists. While Target Center may not have been treated to the best LeBron James performance, they got a vintage one from Wade. One of the best to ever play his position.
2. Ricky Rubio’s defense. One of the only broken records I have for this Wolves team that is entirely positive. Whether he’s jumping with both hands in the air to intercept an entry pass, or playing possum in an upright [non] defensive stance before diving in for a steal or a quick lateral cut to draw a charge, or just plain hounding LeBron James until persistence ends in a steal, Ricky Rubio is a treat to watch on the defensive side of the floor. One little thing I wish I could’ve seen is Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer in the same backcourt. They approach defense with similar attitudes and energy.
3. Miami’s transition game. If there is a benefit to sitting farther instead of closer to the floor is that you can see full-court plays develop. If the opponent is Chicago or Boston, this isn’t such an advantage. But if it’s Oklahoma City or Miami, it’s pretty cool. Wade and James play off each other so well in spotting when one guy is about to corral a rebound and leaking out for Transition Terror. Each guy is practically a Basketball Randy Moss in leaping up to grab 50 to 70-foot bullet passes and quickly converting them into touchdown dunks. Good luck to the rest of the NBA trying to stop this attack in the playoffs. The Heat literally use every inch of the court.
4. The Poor Man’s Big Dog. Derrick Williams had 25 points. (Yes!) It took him 22 shots and 45 minutes to get them. (No!) He’s not playing poorly — far from it, in tonight’s game — but I’m not overly excited about what he’s doing either. His game is very narrowly focused on catching and shooting (probably for the best — he turns it over when he tries to expand his arsenal) which will lead to some mediocre efficiency and volume scoring. As one reflection of his tunnel vision, he’s near the league’s absolute bottom in assists per minute. But again, he had 25 points and 10 rebounds. Things could be worse. A lot worse. And a GLASS HALF FULL: He’s at least playing well enough to command floor time, and floor time means reps and — hopefully — an increased comfort level that will lead to things like knowing how to get open near the basket, draw extra defenders, and pass to open shooters.
Sexy Alexey Back. Shved made shots! He did fancy stuff! My favorite player from the early part of this season was back tonight. Alexey had 13 points (would’ve been 16 if not for the bogus kicking call) in 23 minutes and looked surprisingly comfortable against one of the most aggressive perimeter defenses that the league has to offer. Perhaps more than anything, getting this guy back on track before season’s end would give hope for a better one next year.
John Wall and the Wizards come to town on Wednesday. Until then.
Season Record: 20-37