Zulgad: Timberwolves stood little chance of cooling off the red-hot Heat
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MINNEAPOLIS -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had both conducted their postgame interviews late Monday night inside the cramped space that is the visitor's locker room in Target Center, when James took control of his team one final time.
"We've got to get out of here before this snowstorm hits," he announced.
Nobody had the heart, or perhaps the guts, to tell James that it was too late. Outside the snow already was flying. That might have been the first thing all night that didn't go the way of the NBA's biggest star and the defending champs.
Miami's 97-81 victory over a Wolves team that had nine healthy players extended its winning streak to 15 games, breaking a franchise record.
"Any time you get an opportunity to set a record, it's great for the organization and the guys involved," James said. "But we want to keep going, we want to keep winning each game by itself. We don't talk about the streak, we just go to the next game and play it out. We look forward to the next one."
The Heat, coming off a nationally televised victory over the Knicks on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, allowed the Wolves to hang around for much of Monday's game. Afterward there was some grumbling about questionable fourth-quarter calls by the officiating crew that drew the ire of Wolves coach Rick Adelman.
Adelman was not happy that guard J.J. Barea was assessed a flagrant foul 2 and ejected after using his chest to bump Ray Allen with 8 minutes, 8 seconds remaining. Adelman was even more unhappy when the Heat went on a 17-5 run as the Wolves fell apart.
Throw in offensive foul calls on Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham that nullified scoring chances with the Wolves' deficit still in single digits and some in the announced crowd of 18,391 probably made their way into the night wondering what might have been.
But ultimately, one got the distinct impression that the Heat was doing nothing more than toying with the Wolves.
"We didn't play good basketball, to our ability," James said. "We had too many turnovers (23). But we got stops when we needed it and we got out and ran and executed our offense. It was a good win. It was a tough back to back, under the circumstances."
The circumstances, of course, were supposed to be far different for these Timberwolves.
This was supposed to be the season in which Adelman led the franchise back to relevance with a cast that should have included a starting five Monday that featured Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Ricky Rubio. Chase Budinger and Malcolm Lee would have been among the first off the bench.
But injuries have ravaged the Wolves roster and left Budinger, Kirilenko, Lee, Love, Pekovic and Roy all unavailable.
The Heat started a lineup that included James and Udonis Haslem at the forwards, Chris Bosh at center and Wade and Mario Chalmers at the guard spots. The Wolves countered with Mickael Gelabale and Derrick Williams at the forwards, Greg Stiemsma at center and Luke Ridnour and Rubio at the guards.
The Wolves' losing streak is now at six games and they have won only three of 15 games since Feb. 1. The Wolves' 20-37 record gives them the fewest victories in the Western Conference and they are 10.5 games behind Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot.
All of this means it would have been easy for James to assess the situation early Monday and decide to rest his sore left knee after taking a tumble and landing awkwardly when he was fouled while trying to catch a lob pass in the third quarter of Sunday's 99-93 win in New York.
James continued to play in that game but said he would have his knee examined as a precautionary measure after arriving Sunday night in the Twin Cities. James, though, started the game and finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots in 34 minutes. He also had a game-high seven turnovers, something that he admitted he "can't stand."
"No issues," James said when asked about the knee. "(It felt) pretty good when I woke up this morning. Felt even better after I got a lot of treatment. I came in and felt great. My knee responded well. ... I'm blessed. It's nothing really, a little jam when I landed on the floor. A little scary at the time, but I was able to finish the game strong."
James' point total was second to Wade, who led all scorers with 32. Wade added 10 assists and seven rebounds. In the end, it was just another night's work for Miami's dynamic duo.
Wade, in his ninth season, was asked what it meant to extend the winning streak to 15.
"It means I've been around for a long time," he said. "You start breaking your own records, you've been around for a while. Hopefully, we can continue to win and if we don't hopefully we can get right back on it. That's what we've done all year. We're in a groove, we're playing well, we're finding ways to win and that's the most important thing."
And with that the Heat exited Target Center into the snowy Minnesota night and headed back to the comforts of South Beach.