That seems so long ago now.
Despite a valiant effort from Wade on Tuesday night, the Shaq-less Heat trailed the worst team in the league by 19 points in the second half en route to their eighth consecutive loss, 101-91 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Rashad McCants continued his sharp shooting streak with 27 points and the Timberwolves (5-29) snapped an eight-game skid with their most complete offensive performance in recent memory.
“We’re not exactly 28-5 this year,” Wade said of his 8-27 Heat, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. “We’re one of the worst teams in the league as well.”
Wade had 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds for Miami, which played its sixth straight game without O’Neal and has also played stretches without Wade, Jason Williams and Dorell Wright. The Heat already lost Alonzo Mourning for the season.
The Timberwolves were only too happy to take advantage, one day after coach Randy Wittman put them through a meat-grinder of a practice following an ugly loss to Dallas.
“We need wins,” Wittman said. “I need wins. We have to be consistent in our effort.”
McCants and the Wolves came out strong from the start. Showing an aggressive side that Wittman has been begging to see, McCants hit nine of his first 11 shots to help Minnesota take a double-digit lead midway through the second quarter.
“We have too much talent to be down for too long,” McCants said. “I think it’s about time we start to get it together, jelling as a team, and going with our execution.”
McCants hit a 3-pointer less than 4 minutes into the second half to give Minnesota a 72-53 lead. Unlike so many games this season, the Wolves were able to hold on when the opponent made a run.
Wade attempted just seven free throws and uncharacteristically missed two big ones with just over 5 minutes to play. Still, the man they call Flash managed two straight breakaway layups to cut a 13-point deficit to six with 2:39 to go.
Jefferson responded with a layup on the low block and Jaric iced it with a 20-footer a few seconds later, giving these young Timberwolves some much-needed positive reinforcement.
“When teams make a run, instead of us putting our heads down, we hit back,” Jefferson said.
While the Heat have been shocked by their poor showing to this point, the Timberwolves expected to struggle after trading Kevin Garnett in the offseason.
The losing appeared to start taking its toll on a team with nine players aged 25 or younger when they trailed by as many as 31 points against Dallas on Sunday.
“Sunday’s game was embarrassing,” Jefferson said. “We had to take advantage of Shaq being out.”
O’Neal is in Los Angeles receiving treatment for bursitis in his left hip and isn’t expected to rejoin the team until this weekend. Even though he is averaging a career-low 14 points and 7.8 rebounds this season, the Heat sorely miss the big fella in the middle.
All five Minnesota starters scored in double figures and the Wolves scored 26 points off 18 turnovers by the Heat.
McCants topped 20 points for the third straight game, Ryan Gomes scored 13 and Sebastian Telfair added 11 for the Minnesota, which shot 62 percent in the first quarter and hovered around 50 percent for much of the game.
“I was trying to find someone that would guard somebody,” Miami coach Pat Riley said.
Wade sees only one way out of it.
“We need to do one thing: play better,” Wade said. “It’s that simple. We know the system works. We just need to play better.”
While still recovering from a knee injury, Williams came off the bench and had three points and four assists in 13 minutes. … Two former Timberwolves — Ricky Davis and Mark Blount—were non-factors in their first game at Target Center since being traded for Antoine Walker and Michael Doleac before the season began. Davis had five points and Blount added nine.