Effect of injuries on playoff teams (cont.)
Heat waiting for consistent Beasley
Nearing the end of his second season, Heat forward Michael Beasley still isn't mature enough to justify being taken with the second pick, behind Chicago's Derrick Rose, in the 2008 draft. Beasley still has cover-your-eyes ugly games like a March 28 appearance against Toronto, when he missed nine of 10 shots, committed four turnovers and was a minus-15 in 19 minutes during a three-point Heat victory.
And he still has aggravating outings like the one last Saturday in Minnesota. There was no shame in the two quick fouls the 6-10, 235-pound forward picked up trying to guard 7-foot, 275-pound center Darko Milicic (Jermaine O'Neal was out with an injury and the Heat chose to put replacement center Joel Anthony on Minnesota's top scorer, Al Jefferson). But his third foul was glaringly unwise -- he jumped into Damien Wilkins (hardly a long-range threat) during a three-point shot with 2.7 seconds remaining in the half. A silly fourth foul a mere 91 seconds into the third period cemented his lack of self-awareness.
Reporters who cover Miami expect Beasley to be shopped hard this offseason as the Heat seek to add a second star in order to retain Wade, one of the summer's top free agents. Of course, Beasley was supposed to be that stellar sidekick, and as Miami has surged to fifth in the East thanks to an eight-game winning streak, it's hard not to imagine all the sugar plums -- home-court advantage in the playoffs, the assured return of Wade next year -- the Heat would likely reap if Beasley was, as expected, on a par, talent-wise, with Rose.
The Heat, not surprisingly, are downplaying the disappointment. "He's getting better and helping us win," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That is part of the process of playing for a playoff team, one that is fighting for best possible seed. You learn how to impact the game in different ways to help the team win. He is making progress and we are encouraged by it. We keep it all in perspective with Michael. There are a lot of expectations and there is a lot of analysis about him. He is coming along at we think is a healthy rate."
Wolves 'promote' Love with reserve role?
You don't have to watch the Timberwolves very long before concluding that Kevin Love and Jefferson are the team's two best players. But while Jefferson is the team leader in minutes per game, Love is fifth, and has frequently been supplanted to better emphasize the development of first Ryan Hollins and more recently Milicic, each at least three years older than the 21-year-old Love.
Yes, Minnesota is rightfully trying to develop a legit center, and both Hollins and Milicic are 7-footers. But playing either one at Love's expense seems like a long-term absurdity for a 15-62 team that has a double-double machine to nurture, a player who already is among the game's elite rebounders and ranks second in scoring and third in assists on the team.
"I'm sure Kevin on some level is frustrated he's coming off the bench. But we need him, this team needs him," coach Kurt Rambis said before the loss to Miami. "To me it wasn't a demotion, which is the way most people look at someone going to the bench. In my mind it's a promotion -- our second unit needs help and you're someone who can support it and make it better."
But then what? Trying to break a franchise-tying 16-game losing streak against Sacramento last Wednesday, Love and the Wolves built a 16-point lead with 7:06 to play. Rambis replaced three players, including having Milicic sub in for Love. Less than three minutes later, the lead was down to six. (Minnesota held on to win 108-99.)
Three nights later against Miami, Milicic left in the second quarter with a concussion after absorbing an elbow to the jaw. But rather than plug Love into the starting lineup alongside Jefferson (against an undersized Heat front line that included Joel Anthony and Beasley), Rambis opted for Hollins, who owns one of the league's worst plus/minutes ratings. Sure enough, by the time Love entered the game with 6:23 to play in the third quarter, the Heat had expanded their lead from nine to 19 and the outcome was essentially decided.
What makes matters worse is that Love was shorted minutes during the first half of his stellar rookie season by former coach Randy Wittman, a lack of playing time that cost him a spot in the rookie-sophomore game at All-Star weekend.
Asked if he felt like he had been "promoted" to the second unit this year and how he responded to watching his team struggle while he sits, Love said: "I don't look at it as a promotion or a demotion or whatever -- I just have to get it done in the time that the coach gives me. But it is tough sometimes coming in when we are down and in the third quarter it kind of seems like the team needs me.
"Hopefully, looking into next year, I would like to determine what my role is, talking with the coaches going forward about knowing what I am to the team. It is still up to them to decide and for me to work my butt off showing them what I can do. But I feel like I can do other things out there and I'd like to know going forward what they think. That's why you have exit interviews at the end of the season."
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