The Wolves take their talents to Miami tonight to play the incumbent Finals champions, after losing a winnable game against the Magic Monday night in Orlando. Well, maybe not all their talents: Ricky Rubio is not expected to play in tonight’s game, as part of a program that will have him avoiding back-to-backs until he’s cleared by team medical staff. Rubio, who struggled last night, will never say never, however, suggesting there’s a chance that he will play tonight if his knee isn’t too sore.
The Wolves could certainly use Rubio, even with Ricky coming off a subpar performance against the Magic where the rust clearly showed. Rubio ended the night with 0 points, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers in 16 minutes of action last night after having a nice Ricky-like 8/9/4/3 line in Saturday’s win over Dallas.
Against the Heat, the Wolves need Rubio far more than they did against Dallas or Orlando, and not just because the Heat are (by far) the best of the three teams. Why?
Because Miami can play a brand of pressure D in the deep backcourt, and on the wings, that is simply stifling. Simply put, if your guards can’t get you into your sets, Miami’s wings will score all day in transition off turnovers. The Wolves badly need Ricky’s nifty passing, ball-handling, and ability to quarterback an offense under pressure, as he showed he could do in the ’08 Olympics, when he held his own against a Team USA squad whose perimeter defense, led by LeBron and D-Wade (who, back then, was still The Flash), was the catalyst for so much of the team’s success.
Tonight, you have to worry that Ridnour won’t be able to hang with the Heat’s backcourt physically, and that JJ Barea’s hot head will lead to the bad shots and turnovers Miami’s D is predicated on.***
Things to watch for:
*What’s the deal with Dwyane Wade? Wade’s star has plummeted this season. He’s had some poor games, but to me this looks more like an aging player on a championship team accepting a lesser role so others can lead. Which might not be a bad course of action when you’re on the same team as LeBron James. Wade’s career progression is trending toward less scoring, which is to be expected – it’s the rare 6’3” body hunting combo guard who thrives into his thirties. Steve Francis and Allen Iverson could tell you all about it.
*The Heat stink at rebounding, coming into the game 29th in the League. The Wolves are 4th. We need to hit the offensive glass hard and get some second-chance points if we’re going to beat the Heat.
*The Heat come into the game 4th in the League in scoring; the Wolves are in the bottom third at 20th. We’ll never win a track meet with Miami (though we would get to see some sick LBJ dunks, FWIW). Tempo is key. Can our guards control it?
*No one can stop LeBron, but it sure will be fun to watch Andrei Kirilenko try.
*Mike Miller will be back in the house. He’s been playing restricted minutes due to an injury. Which I’m sure led him to writh in agony on the floor for several minutes after he sustained it, followed by being helped up by no fewer than two of his teammates, after which he surely waved them off so he could hobble around a bit to “test it” while everyone else on the court had to wait impatiently for him to get his ass off the floor so play could resume.
*Wolves fans grew to loathe Miller in 2008-09, not only for the kind of antics described above, but also because he was our best shooter but refused to shoot, instead driving into the lane and kicking it out to the likes of Bricklayer Extraordinaires Bassy Telfair and Corey Brewer. Miller popped off a bunch of treys in Game 5 of last year’s Finals – 7, to be exact – but Heat fans probably don’t care much what Miller does, as long as newly-acquired legend Ray Allen gets his looks. Allen was a very nice addition, and is averaging 12 ppg off the bench, with a PER of over 17.
*Chris Bosh is too quick and long for Kevin Love and Pek. Our bigs should own the interior, but they’ll need Love to take Bosh outside so Pek can go to work on Haslem down low (if those are the matchups Spoelstra goes with).
That’s all folks. It’s gonna be a tough one. Here’s hoping the Wolves come with more energy than they did last night in Orlando.
***On the flipside, of course, one could point to Barea’s ridiculous performance in the 2011 Finals – against Miami – as evidence to the contrary. We’ll see. I’d still rather take my chances on a rusty Rubio than an inconsistent Barea. As the Wolves make a bid for the playoffs, not knowing on any given night if it’ll be Good JJ or Bad JJ out there is going to drive us nuts.