By Jon Krawczynski
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MINNEAPOLIS _ Ricky Rubio returned to Target Center with a flourish, throwing no-look passes early and forcing turnovers late to help the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves walk out of the arena as winners for once.
Kevin Martin scored 30 points and the Timberwolves overcame another monster game from Hassan Whiteside to beat the Miami Heat, 102-101 on Wednesday night.
Thaddeus Young had 16 points and five steals, Rubio added eight points and nine assists in his first home game since Nov. 1, and the Timberwolves (9-40) erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
“He was the difference early and he was the difference late,” coach Flip Saunders said of Rubio.
Whiteside scored a career-high 24 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and hit his first 11 field goal attempts, the best shooting start to a game by an NBA player this season. Luol Deng added 18 points but Norris Cole missed an open 3-pointer in the closing moments, allowing the Wolves to escape.
It was a difficult loss for the Heat to swallow. They outrebounded Minnesota 47-32, including 15-3 on the offensive glass, and scored 19 points off 14 turnovers by the Wolves. But they allowed Minnesota to shoot 51 per cent, were outscored 26-18 in the fourth quarter and managed just one field goal during the game-deciding, 7-minute stretch in the final period.
“Hell yeah, it’s a missed opportunity,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who had 14 points on 5-for-14 shooting. “We’re not going to get it back. That’s one thing about this league: If you’re in a situation where you can’t really afford to lose any games, things are slipping away from us.
“We’re about to be out of the playoff race. I mean, not the race, but as far as the seeding we’re about to be out. And we’re not concentrating. I don’t understand that.”
The Heat, who played their fourth straight game without Dwyane Wade (hamstring), dropped to 21-28 and are now eighth in the East.
The Wolves trailed 88-78 with under nine minutes to play and had yet to grab an offensive rebound when they ripped off a 20-6 run. Andrew Wiggins’ layup off their second offensive board of the possession gave Minnesota a 100-97 lead, but jumpers from Deng and Bosh pushed the Heat back in front, 101-100, with 50 seconds to play.
Martin hit a jumper 9 seconds later and Rubio forced a turnover to help the Wolves hold on.
Whiteside finished 12 for 13 from the field, but had a quiet fourth with two points and three rebounds in 7 minutes.
“The biggest thing was just keeping him off the glass,” Young said. “He’s long, he’s athletic. The biggest thing was to come in for the weak-side rebounds before he could get a hand on it.”
The Heat got a scare in the first quarter when Mario Chalmers had to be helped off the court after slamming into a chair while chasing a loose ball. He was taken for X-rays, which were negative. He was able to return to the game and scored 12 points.
Rubio returned from a 42-game absence Monday night in Dallas, and he had it going early in this one with seven assists in his first 7 minutes.
His no-look beauty to Anthony Bennett in transition ended with an emphatic slam, and Rubio fed Young for a layup moments later for a 40-31 lead. But Rubio got in some foul trouble, turned the ball over four times and had only two assists over his final 16 minutes on the court.
“I was out for almost three months,” Rubio said. “I know my game is a little bit different. I’ve just got to get used to my teammates and know where they’re at.”
Heat: Whiteside is the seventh player in Heat history with a 20-20 game. Rony Seikaly had 12 of them. … After managing three points in 75 minutes in a loss to Detroit on Tuesday night, Chalmers, Cole (15) and Shabazz Napier (six) combined for 33 points in 82 minutes.
Timberwolves: Wiggins was selected Western Conference rookie of the month for January, the third straight month he’s won the award. … Saunders said F Shabazz Muhammad (oblique) is getting closer to returning. Saunders estimated Muhammad could be back as soon as Friday.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he did not expect Wade to play in the finale of Miami’s four-game road trip at San Antonio on Friday night. It remains unclear if he will be ready to play in the All-Star Game on Feb. 15 in New York.
“Between that and working together as a team, it’s just really been difficult with all the injuries and everything,” Bosh said. “But you know, we’re still searching, you know?”
Heat: Visit San Antonio on Friday night.
Timberwolves: Host Memphis on Friday night.