Wolves Look To Control Boards, Paint Against Athletic Heat

Wolves Look To Control Boards, Paint Against Athletic Heat

Alert the media: Miami poses matchup problems for opposing teams every single night.

No surprise there, considering they have the best basketball player in the world on their roster and two more perennial All-Stars that, when healthy, are likely in the top 20 category in the league. So when it comes to competing with the Heat, you’ve got to be ready for wings that will attack the basket, a championship-tested defensive approach and a collection of capable shooters.

It’s why they are the two-time defending champions.

But as the Heat enter Target Center for a 7 p.m. matchup on Saturday night against the Timberwolves, Miami is struggling. They’re riding a two-game losing streak, they’ve been without shooting guard Dwyane Wade the past two games—the most recent due to illness—and they’re showing signs of two weaknesses that were crucial in losses to Detroit and Chicago this week.

When a team dominates the glass and controls the paint, it puts the Heat in an awfully tough position.

“We have to control the paint,” forward Corey Brewer said. “We’re going to be bigger than those guys.”

Granted, that’s a formula for success against most teams. But with the way Miami plays, this is incredibly pivotal. The Heat are extremely gifted in the talent department. LeBron James has won four of the past five MVP awards, and somehow his numbers are getting better. He’s teetering on shooting 60/40/80 this year (currently 58.4 percent from the field, 45.9 percent from 3 and 49.3 percent from the free-throw line—all career highs) while averaging 25.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.7 boards per game.

When you add in Wade’s athleticism, the continued development of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole at point guard and the 17-feet and in game from Chris Bosh, and you have options offensively.

But the Heat have trouble with teams that can play inside out in a more traditional, old-school format. They were pushed to seven games by the physical Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, then were pushed to seven again in the NBA Finals by the fundamentally-sound Spurs—led by Mr. Fundamental himself, Tim Duncan.

And this week, the combination of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in Detroit and Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer in Chicago each caused fits inside for Miami, forcing them to play outside the paint and limiting their ability to extend possessions on the glass. Miami, who are shooting 50 percent as a team this year, shot 43.9 percent against the Pistons and 41.6 percent against the Bulls.

The Bulls and Pistons held a combined 95-48 advantage in rebounding over those two games, and they edged Miami 104-82 in the paint. The results were a 107-97 win for the Pistons on Tuesday and a 107-87 Bulls win on Thursday.

OK, so diagnosing the Heat’s weaknesses is easy. But how do you execute it?

For one, it takes a collective effort on the perimeter to keep their wing players in check. When the Heat are being outscored in the paint, it means their athletic guards are not getting lanes to the basket. They’re not getting out in transition, and in the half court sets they are settling for jump shots.

Assistant coach Terry Porter said the Wolves need to keep that trend going, because with athletes abound—led by James—the Heat can do a lot of damage very quickly if you let them.

“The big challenge for us is to try and not give them anything easy,” Porter said. “The transition is going to be so critical in regards to not allowing them to get turnovers and feed their fast break with turnover and give them easy opportunities. Because when they have the wing players they have, they’re probably the best when it comes to turning it over into easy baskets. We’ve got to do a great job of moving the ball and swinging it from side to side and not letting that hurt us or affect the game.”

Minnesota has gone through spurts this year where their transition game has been a driving force in their victories. Fast break points are easy ways to generate offense, and in some cases it changes momentum into your favor. So with James flying down the court throwing down jams, not only does it swing that momentum but it gives Miami baskets that Minnesota simply can’t afford.

“We know they can run,” guard Ricky Rubio said. “They can run and they can fly.”

In the half court, it takes a collective unit. Being able to help on the perimeter and rotate down low will be crucial on Saturday night.

As for the rebounding? Kevin Love’s absence due to personal reasons clearly makes a difference. He’s leading the league in rebounding, and he and Pekovic pose significant issues for this Heat squad that plays much smaller. Last year in Miami, Pek and Love combined for 30 rebounds as Minnesota out-rebounded the Heat 53-24.

Without Love, being able to get some rebounding out of Brewer, Rubio and other guards will be important.

“They’re going to be ready to go,” Brewer said. “They’re one of the best teams in the league, so we’ve got to be ready. We’ve got them on our home court, so we’ve got to get a win.”

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