Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Heat | Dec. 7, 2013

Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Heat | Dec. 7, 2013

Timberwolves vs. Heat | 7:00 PM — Target Center

Where to Watch: Fox Sports North Plus

Where to Listen: 830 WCCO-AM

The Wolves and Heat enter tonight’s game with a couple major question marks that won’t fully be answered until gametime. For Minnesota, who will fill in for Kevin Love as the starting power forward as he misses tonight’s game to be with his family after his grandmother passed away this week? For the Heat, will Dwyane Wade be back in the lineup after missing the past two games—both Miami losses?

Both players are All-Stars that significantly impact the game, and it does alter what both teams do when either player misses time. When the Wolves and Heat match up tonight at 7 p.m. at Target Center, the Wolves will need to find a way to account for Love’s 23 points and 13 rebounds per game, while the Heat will need to find a way to get additional perimeter penetration aside from LeBron James.

“No question, Kevin is big for us, especially in games like this,” guard J.J. Barea said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys who can step up.”

When it comes to filling Love’s shoes directly, the list is short. Dante Cunningham stepped in as a starter for parts of last season, and given his defensive energy and knowledge of Minnesota’s gameplan it seems natural for him to slide in as the starter.

But the Wolves could also go with newly-acquired Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who practiced the 4 yesterday in practice and does give the Wolves more of a perimeter-based defender to add into the starting lineup. If Wade does play, having him and James on the court at the same time poses significant problems on the defensive end. We saw what happened last year when the Wolves used Andrei Kirilenko on either Wade or James and didn’t have an answer for the other—whoever AK wasn’t guarding had a spike in production.

So having the possibility of putting Brewer and Mbah a Moute on the floor together against two of the top perimeter players in the game does seem like a viable option. Both guys are preparing for any scenario as we head into tonight’s tipoff.

“I’m getting ready just in case,” Mbah a Moute said. “So I don’t know if it’s me or someone else.”

Rookie forward Robbie Hummel is another candidate to get the nod or get playing time off the bench given the short-handed nature of the team with Love out.

Either way, the Wolves understand rebounding is a major key in beating the Heat, and missing Love impacts that part of their game. It also means the Wolves will need to rely on Nikola Pekovic down low offensively to try and provide mismatches with his size and physicality. Miami is one of the best in the league at playing small, but that does open up an opportunity for opposing teams.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when it comes to rebounding, the Heat understand each player needs to be accountable for committing to attacking the boards. They’re a five-man defensive rebounding team, he said, and it’s something the team needs to focus on every possession.

That being said, even with Love out Spoelstra said the Wolves pose some difficult matchups for his team.

“[Love]’s a dynamic player, but in terms of what they do with their offense, how easily they can score, how they move the ball, the pick-and-roll triggers that happen with [Ricky] Rubio, Pekovic in the post,” Spoelstra said. “[They’re] a great offensive rebounding team.”

Shane Battier joked if anyone was helped out by Love not being available tonight, it was him. But he said Pekovic is still a major factor, and as a guy who knows Rick Adelman’s tendencies offensively it still won’t be a cakewalk.

“Unlike most offenses where I can take away a lot of offenses just bye know that they’re going to run, you don’t know what’s coming,” Battier said. “That’s the beauty of his offense. It’s about reads, and there is no right answer on defense because there is always a counter.”

As for Wade, Spoelstra said the full roster was available for shootaround but he was not sure if Wade will be available for gametime. “We’ll wait and see,” he said.

For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.