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Challenge met: Heat pick up the pace

MIAMI -- About 90 minutes before the Miami Heat's latest exercise in annihilation, coach Erik Spoelstra issued a plea for public assistance. His team needed help.

Don't be fooled by the 4-1 record, the 91-point margin of victory over the past four games or the suffocating defensive numbers. There are weaknesses. There are shortcomings. There are areas with this Heat team that can be nitpicked, dissected, questioned and criticized.

Microscopes might be needed at this point to find them. But those flaws are there. Before Tuesday night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Heat ranked next-to-last among 30 NBA teams in possessions per game. Our own John Hollinger verified through his numbers-crunching that the Heat's offensive pace was faster only than the glacial Charlotte Bobcats'.

"We're going to get better with our fast-break production," Spoelstra said. "We've turned the ball over a lot because it's a new game for us. But I'm looking at fast-break opportunities. I'm not looking at the box score."

Then Spoelstra went a step further.

"If anyone can tell me what is a fast-break point," Spoelstra said, "and define that, it might help us figure out what that means."

Much like with every other aspect of their game these days, the Heat proved to be quick studies in their 129-97 victory over the Timberwolves. Not only was that total the most points Miami has scored in a non-overtime game in two seasons, the Heat also posted a season-high 22 fast-break points.

Yes, the Heat remain a work very much in progress. But with each opponent, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and their sharpshooting supporting cast are fine-tuning a different aspect of their game. Tuesday night was all about pace.

The Heat didn't run at a Phoenix Suns-type pace. In fact, they didn't do much running at all. But there was a commitment to getting quickly into their offense, searching for scoring opportunities early in the shot clock and aggressively looking to score when those chances presented themselves.

The result was less ball-hogging and more ball movement from James, who dished 12 assists and scored 20 points. It led to Wade, who scored a game-high 26 points, attacking early and not waiting for anyone else on the team to set the offensive tone.

But most important, that increased pace and tempo created openings for those beyond the big three -- Carlos Arroyo, Udonis Haslem, Eddie House, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, James Jones and Mario Chalmers -- to connect on 22 of their combined 34 shots.

"It just means that everybody was into the game," Wade said of an overall Heat effort in which six players scored in double figures. "When you look at the bench and see 11 [points], 15 and 17, it shows you that we are playing a good team game and everyone is being involved."

Of course, the lowly, defensively lenient, young Timberwolves played a role in the Heat's gaudy offensive numbers Tuesday night. But to dismiss this as simply a superior team feasting on an inferior opponent would be an understatement. The Heat's offensive improvement was a product of pace and efficiency. And defense will always be the first byproduct of offense with this team. It's been the foundation in Miami since Alonzo Mourning was flexing his biceps and patrolling the lane as a two-time league defensive player of the year.

Because defense is such a priority in Miami, Spoelstra has barely gotten beyond the table of contents in his 400-page offensive playbook with this team.

"The majority of our possessions were on misses, blocks and steals," Spoelstra said. "You can score points in this league regardless of whether you're running on makes or not, if you're efficient. Offensively, we were being very unselfish. It's not too complicated. A theme of ours is to keep it simple. Move the ball."

And when the ball moves with this team, with this level of talent, there's potential for the Heat to make their way through the basket at a prolific rate.