Outclassed by the Heat, Wolves come unraveled without Kevin Love
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It was almost as if Rick Adelman saw it coming.
Shortly before the Minnesota Timberwolves returned to the Target Center court for their first game in six days, minus forward Kevin Love, Adelman revealed what he feared from his team entering a heavy challenge with the visiting Miami Heat.
"My biggest concern with Kevin out is how are we going to score enough points?" Adelman remarked.
The solution never came to the Wolves Saturday night, outclassed nearly top to bottom in a deflating 103-82 performance. Minnesota's 82 points were a season-low, set in motion by another season-worst -- a 29 percent shooting mark from the floor.
The void left with Love gone was an obvious one. Without Love, who missed Saturday's game to be with his family after the recent death of his grandmother, the Wolves had no luck in making up for the aggressive scoring and rebounding presence their All-Star forward usually provides.
But the loss, Minnesota's seventh in nine games, went beyond just the absence of Love. After battling to take a 25-24 first quarter, the Wolves suddenly fell into a stagnate lapse, of the variety that have plagued them all year, that they could not shake for the rest of the night.
Saddled with an almost weeklong layoff, despite much of it spent on the road with a smoke-induced postponed game in Mexico City, the hope was the Wolves be refreshed enough to challenge the recently vulnerable Heat.
Instead, Miami quickly reminded the Wolves where they currently sit in the NBA hierarchy.
"I think tonight we took two or three steps back in everything, especially on defense," guard Ricky Rubio said.
The problems started with a porous transition defense -- outscored 24-14 in transition -- and spiraled into an offensive mess. As part of a dismal shooting percentage, the Wolves continually missed their opportunities to claw at the 13-point halftime lead Miami created with a lopsided second quarter.
Minnesota struggled to respond even when at near point-blank range, missing 24 of its 38 shots in the paint and leaving 10 second chance opportunities unaccounted for.
"We didn't move the ball the way we talked about moving it against them," Adelman said. "You know what they're going to do. They're very active and long. They're going to jump pick and rolls. The ball's got to move if you're going to get good shots. Even when we did get good shots we couldn't make them."
Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic paced the Wolves with 19 and 18 points. But add their 12-of-34 shooting line to the starting lineup's combined effort and it culminated in a 33 percent showing (19-of-57) from the main five (newcomer Luc Mbah a Moute made the start in place of Love).
"I couldn't even tell you," Corey Brewer said when asked about the cause of their offensive problem. "Can't say legs, we shouldn't have been tired. We were just missing shots tonight ... It's always effort when you get beat by 20 points, in my opinion. We should have played a little harder, pushed the ball a little more."
The Wolves adequately tempered the defensive deficiencies at times, but the growing offensive woes did nothing to help provide a rebuttal when Miami began imposing its will.
LeBron James missed only three of his 12 shots en route to a game-high 21 points. He also tallied 14 rebounds, his highest regular season total since 2009, as Miami shed the stigma as the NBA's worst rebounding team for the night. The Heat held a 35-32 advantage at the end of third quarter before the Wolves' reserves were able to shift the margin in the waning minutes to 45-44 in their favor.
There were no excuses to be had for the Wolves postgame, especially any concerns about lingering rust from their unexpected break between games.
"Why would you look at that?" Adelman said. "It's just a fact that we didn't play well. Whatever the reason, they've got to understand that we have to be better than that."
On the bright side, the Wolves are expecting Love to return at some point on Sunday in time join in on the two days of practice they will have before facing the Pistons in Detroit Tuesday.
As Saturday proved, the Wolves desperately need Love, and more from his supporting crew, if they intend to reverse their downward trend.