The Minnesota Timberwolves have won a total of nine games this season, including just five victories at home. Miami has the dubious honor of being in that elite class.
It's a good indicator of the season that Minnesota, despite just eight wins prior to tonight's game, was somehow favored to win by two points. Perhaps it was the energy infused by the return of Ricky Rubio from a lingering knee injury that forced him out for much of this season. Rubio was electric to start the game, scoring or assisting on the Wolves' first five field goals. Minnesota was never expected to win a title this season but it's clear that Rubio's presence might have made a difference had he not been injured, especially after plays like this (via Vine):
Despite Rubio's spark, the Heat kept the game close for most of the first quarter. After allowing an early six-point deficit, a well-rounded effort cut the lead to two off a Hassan Whiteside dunk. But Miami's suffered a brief scare when Mario Chalmers fell into the first row of seats and fell to the floor clutching his leg. With the Heat's backcourt already thinned by the loss of Dwyane Wade, it seemed like just one more injury for the team to deal with.
Instead, Norris Cole filled the void admirably, logging 15 points on the night. Chalmers would surprisingly return to action midway through the second quarter and the Heat would end the first half down, 53-51.
Miami would get their first lead of the night after a Luol Deng floater put the team up 59-57 early in the third quarter. Deng was solid, chipping in 16 points (on 60 percent shooting) to go with 4 rebounds and 2 steals. That type of production hasn't always been there from Deng but it was necessary on a night when Chris Bosh struggled from the floor.
A night after scoring 34 points in a losing effort, Bosh provided just 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting, even being outscored by Minnesota's Thad Young (16 points).
Still, Miami was able to build a 10-point lead after an unexpected Shabazz Napier 3-pointer (his first made field goal in quite some time). That shot led to a Whiteside dunk, a 15-foot shot from the still-surprising Whiteside and a Deng 3-pointer. It seemed that with solid contributions from a number of players - and with the dominating presence of Whiteside - Miami was guaranteed a win.
But Kevin Martin who, prior to tonight, had averaged just 34.8 percent shooting versus Miami throughout his career, caught fire from beyond the 3-point line. He finished with 30 points, including 4-of-8 from long-range. He tied the game up at 90 and the home team seemed to have all the momentum.
The Timberwolves would build a lead up to four but would still trade baskets with Miami for most of the fourth quarter, until a Deng layup and a Bosh jumper put Miami up 101-100 with 50 seconds to play. But Martin once again provide the dagger, hitting the game-winning floater over an outstretched Chalmers.
There was a sense that Miami might comeback with 40 seconds left in the game until Cole and Whiteside provided the lowest point of an ugly game. Whiteside took the ball after Martin's field goal and was set to inbound the ball to Cole, which he did. Apparently, Cole either lost his composure completely or assumed that Whiteside was ineligible to inbound the ball and he ordered Whiteside to step outside and pass it to him again...which he did and resulting in a turnover with precious time ticking away.
In basketball parlance, this is referred to as a "brain fart."
Somehow, Miami was able to prevent the Wolves from scoring again and they still had a chance to win the game. But missed shots by Chalmers, Deng and Cole in the last 25 seconds of the game sealed the deal and left fans wondering if the rest of the season would be dedicated to finding new and creative ways to lose games.
The Heat wrap up their road trip with a stop at San Antonio on Friday, their first meeting in the regular season since last year's NBA Finals matchup. Perhaps, they'll find a way to defy the odds and pull out a victory.
But probably not.