Miami (52-23) at Minnesota (17-58)

By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN, STATS Senior Writer Thursday, Mar 31, 2011 Tipoff: 8:00 pm EDT Fri Apr 1, 2011

A four-game road trip against some of the worst teams in the NBA has been more interesting than the Miami Heat probably anticipated.

The Heat continue their pursuit of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference when they try to hand the Minnesota Timberwolves a ninth straight loss Friday night.

Miami (52-23) figured to cruise through this trip that started with games against Cleveland and Washington and ends in New Jersey on Sunday. Those three opponents, along with Minnesota (17-58), have records that are among the six worst in the league.

The road stretch, though, got off to a bad start with a 102-90 loss to the Cavaliers on Tuesday, with LeBron James(notes) skipping pregame introductions in order to avoid hearing the boos in his second trip back to Cleveland. The Heat recovered for a 102-90 win over the Wizards on Wednesday in a game that featured a second-quarter scuffle.

Miami reserves Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) and Juwan Howard(notes) were ejected because of the incident, in which Washington rookie guard John Wall(notes) took a swing in reaction to being elbowed.

James, who finished with 35 points, eight rebounds and eight assists Wednesday, later complained that a foul on him by Maurice Evans(notes) should have been called as intentional.

“I see a lot of basketball every day, and anytime when someone gets grabbed around the neck, it’s an automatic flagrant-1. If I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong,” James said. “Sometimes it’s unfair, because of how strong I am, you know. I can take the punishment of course, but at the same time, I think it’s unfair sometimes.”

Dwyane Wade(notes) had 33 points and nine assists as the Heat finished with their fourth-best field-goal percentage of the season at 57.7. The teams each had 35 rebounds, one night after the Cavaliers outrebounded the Heat 44-30.

“It’s physical. That’s fine. We’re not running away from that,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When the dust settles, it becomes about a basketball game.”

The Heat are 2 1/2 games behind East-leading Chicago and locked in a tight battle with Boston for the second-best mark.

A big offensive performance could be in store for the Heat on Friday, as they shot a season-high 58.2 percent in a 129-97 rout of Minnesota on Nov. 2. Wade had 26 points and James added 20 and 12 assists.

Michael Beasley(notes) had a difficult night in his first game against his former team, scoring 11 points in 10 minutes before missing the second half with a bruised hip.

Minnesota is enduring its sixth losing streak of at least six games. The Timberwolves have not dropped nine in a row since a 16-game skid Feb. 24-March 28, 2010.

This difficult homestand has featured visits by the East’s three top teams. Minnesota rallied from 25 down to take a fourth-quarter lead in an 85-82 loss to the Celtics on Monday, but turned in a less-competitive effort in falling 108-91 to the Bulls on Wednesday.

“For whatever reason, it wasn’t there tonight,” coach Kurt Rambis said. “We didn’t bring the effort and intensity and focus for the vast majority of the ballgame.”

All-Star forward Kevin Love(notes) returned after missing three games because of a strained left groin and had 16 points and nine assists.

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