Team effort keys Heat scorching of Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS -- Progressing in their pursuit of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Miami Heat moved back into first place in the Southeast Division.

With more complete games like this one, maybe they'll stay there.

Udonis Haslem had 19 points and 14 rebounds, and all five starters scored at least 15 points for the Heat, who led from start to finish and beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 92-77 on Friday night.

"It is nice when guys respond to the beck and call," said coach Pat Riley, who was most pleased by the energy brought on both ends of the court by Haslem and James Posey, who fast-breaked his way through a 12-point first half and finished with 16 points.

Shaquille O'Neal was relatively quiet with 15 points and nine rebounds, perhaps a bit worn out from moving more than usual on defense while Minnesota's Mark Blount -- who plays outside more than inside -- scored 18 points.

But Eddie Jones scored 18 points, Jason Williams had 15 points and 10 assists, and Miami held off every charge by the Timberwolves -- who trailed by as many as 17 points early in the second quarter.

Kevin Garnett, who had 22 points and 20 rebounds for Minnesota, spoke afterward with exasperation over the too-slow transition defense in the first half that let the Heat build a comfortable lead.

"We've got to focus on getting back," Garnett said.

O'Neal was grouchy after Wednesday's game, a 96-83 loss at Toronto that dropped Miami to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. He wanted his teammates to be more aggressive instead of settling for 3-pointers so much when he's getting bumped around underneath.

They sure started fast, using long outlet passes off Wolves misses and fast-break layups by Williams and Posey for five of their first 14 baskets on the way to a 47-35 halftime lead. Offensive spacing problems and mistimed cuts by the Heat kept O'Neal from finding his rhythm, but the defensive intensity was such that the Wolves rarely found an uncontested shot they wanted.

Minnesota had several opportunities thwarted in the second half by plain old poor shooting. Craig Smith tipped in his own missed layup to cut Miami's edge to 61-57 at the end of the third quarter, but that was as close as the Wolves came. Posey responded by swishing a 3-pointer on the other end seconds before the buzzer, and Minnesota went 1-for-10 from 3-point range in the final period to finish a miserable 2-for-18.

"Everything was an exhaustion with whoever caught it -- I am going to exhaust my play first," Wolves coach Randy Wittman said. "They are the best in the league in taking away your first option and the strong side. If you don't get the ball moved to the weak side, you are going to struggle like we did."

Minnesota (30-42), which finished 4-11 in March, has a mathematical chance to make the playoffs, but after guaranteeing their second straight losing season the Wolves are realistically aimed toward the lottery instead.

Wittman benched Trenton Hassell in favor of Marko Jaric after halftime, the latest player to be faulted for a lack of effort. Rookies Randy Foye and Smith, Jaric, and Rashad McCants joined Garnett for much of the second half -- the lineup that Wittman appreciated the most for its energy.

Energy was what drove Miami (39-33), which has been giving Riley inconsistent efforts in recent weeks. The Heat lead the Washington Wizards by a half-game in the division.

"It's important, but at the same time we've still got a lot of basketball to play so if we turn around and lose Sunday it's all for nothing," Haslem said. "It's good to be in this position right now, but we've got a lot more basketball to play so we'll try to keep it up."

Game notes
Gary Payton's nagging injury, a strained right groin suffered two weeks ago, kept him from playing for Miami. He might take some time off to let it heal, but Riley said he hasn't settled on a plan. ... The Timberwolves celebrated the 1980s, with giveaway warmup shirts for fans featuring with the team's original uniform design and music from the era playing frequently over the arena system. Pooh Richardson, the franchise's first draft pick in 1989, was honored with a framed jersey. ... Alonzo Mourning became Miami's all-time leading scorer with 9,252 points, passing Glen Rice.