And so it ends. Whatever hopes the Wolves had to extend their season into the playoffs for the first time since 2004 ended tonight on South Beach.
It’s pretty clear over the last two games that the Wolves have run out of gas. They made an admirable push out of the All-Star break, but appear to have little left to give after a second consecutive defeat on the road, this time to the Miami Heat 123-105.
The defense, which was improving significantly over recent weeks, collapsed starting in Boston and continuing tonight. The Wolves were just a step slow on their rotations all night, which led to numerous easy baskets at the rim for the Heat, who took full advantage. Hassan Whiteside got free for multiple dunks on his way to shooting 10-11 from the field and finishing with 23 points.
In truth, this was an uphill battle all night with the Heat getting off to a quick start and putting the Wolves in a hole from which they would never recover. One of the key moments in the game, however, came late in the second quarter: With the Wolves hanging around, down seven, and under two minutes left in the half, Ricky Rubio was called for a very dubious foul on a Goran Dragic three point attempt. That send Rubio to the bench with his third foul, and after Dragic made all three free throws, the Heat ended the half on a big run to take a 15 point lead into the break.
Although the Wolves crept back into the game, getting within three at points in the third quarter behind strong play from Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns (despite a plague of offensive foul calls,) they could not get over the hump as poor rebounding and an inability to get stops proved impossible to overcome. The Heat made the decisive run midway through the fourth to put the game away.
It didn’t help that the Wolves had to spend much of the game playing small with Shabazz Muhammad essentially operating as the power forward in the absence of the injured Nemanja Bjelica—it exacerbated the Wolves problems in the paint, where the Heat dominated the glass (40-28.) That said, Gorgui Dieng was essentially a no-show tonight, failing to score and grabbing five boards in his 28 minutes. That combination was a catastrophe for the Wolves, and was probably the key to this poor performance.
There isn’t much else to say about this one. A depleted and tired Wolves team simply couldn’t compete with a Heat squad that’s been on fire in recent months. Although the playoffs are now clearly out of reach, the Wolves need to keep fighting to the end of the season.
- Ricky Rubio scored 20 points, marking the 4th straight game he’s reached that number, the longest streak of his career. He’s looking for his shot and although I don’t love the pull up two pointer, he clearly has confidence in it.
- Andrew Wiggins had somewhat of a bounce back game with 26, but still struggled at times with his shot and looked tired in stretches.
- Hassan Whiteside kills the Wolves. He went 18-25 over the two games this season. The Heat in general seem a poor match up for the Wolves defense, shooting over 50% in both games.
- Dion Waiters hurt his ankle early in the game, but Tyler Johnson came off the bench to score 23 for the Heat, which should have been a clue it wasn’t going to be the Wolves night.
- Wolves 2-12 from three is not good enough.