Finishing games, defending, and attacking offensively have sparked the Miami Heat, who seek just their second 4-0 start in franchise history Friday night when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Much was made of the Heat's inability to close out games in June when they lost to Dallas in the NBA finals. Thus far, they have shown an ability to deliver in crunch time - first rookie Norris Cole against Boston on Tuesday and franchise star Dwyane Wade the following night in a 96-95 victory at Charlotte.
Wade, who missed nearly all of the third quarter with a bruised foot and scored just 10 points, banked a 10-footer in the low post with 2.9 seconds left for the winning basket as Miami rallied from 15 down at halftime.
"Hey, they deserved to take my money today," said Wade, who has averaged 31.4 points on 54.9 percent shooting in his last seven games against Minnesota. "But I earned my money toward the end."
Wade is still bothered by the bruise and will decide prior to the game if he will play.
Wednesday night's rally was sparked by the defense, which forced 11 third-quarter turnovers while Miami outscored Charlotte 24-10. The Heat have recorded 32 steals and scored 85 points off 62 turnovers.
Getting those turnovers has helped LeBron James get off to a strong start offensively. He had 12 points and three steals in the third quarter Wednesday and is averaging 32.7 points on 58.9 percent shooting.
"I feel good and this is the best I've felt in a while," James said. "I'm back to having fun playing the game and doing what I do best and that's attacking and getting to the free throw line."
James is 32 of 37 from the line, and the Heat have made 73 free throws - as many as their opponents have attempted. They also have amassed a 148-92 edge in points in the paint, scoring at least 44 in each game.
Miami's other 4-0 start came in 2004-05.
Interior defending and decision-making will be critical for Minnesota (0-2), which was outscored 48-28 in the paint and committed 25 turnovers in a 98-95 defeat at Milwaukee on Tuesday. The loss overshadowed a 31-point, 20-rebound effort from Kevin Love, who made 19 of his franchise-record 24 foul shots.
"We just dug ourselves a hole we shouldn't have been in," said Love, whose team nearly overcame a 20-point deficit. "We turned the ball over too much and they made some shots."
Rookie point guard Ricky Rubio had six points, four assists and three steals in 27 minutes, but he struggled defensively against counterpart Brandon Jennings late. Fellow rookie and No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams had three points, five rebounds and four turnovers in 19 minutes after a 13-point, six-rebound debut in Monday's 104-100 loss to Oklahoma City.
Guard J.J. Barea will miss this game due to a strained left hamstring suffered late in Tuesday's loss. He averaged 13.3 points and 4.7 assists to help the Mavericks win the last three games of the finals over Miami.
This marks the beginning of a tough five-game homestand for the Wolves, who start 2012 with back-to-back games against Dallas and San Antonio. Minnesota is trying to avoid its worst start since opening 2007-08 with five losses.
Wade and James made quick work of Minnesota in a pair of lopsided wins last season. Wade averaged 29.0 points and shot 26 of 38, and James contributed 23.5 points and 11.0 assists per game.
Miami has won three straight overall versus the Timberwolves and three in a row at Minnesota.