MIAMI – Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio returned to Tuesday’s starting lineup in Miami and just like that, his team returned to its road winning ways with a 103-91 comeback victory over the Heat.
Well, maybe not just quite like that, but…
They’re still winless at home after they ended a four-game losing streak while Rubio was out injured, but now they are 5-1 on the road, with the Heat the latest in a list of victims that also includes Chicago and Atlanta.
Trailing by as many as 10 points, the Wolves reversed course with a 41-22 fourth quarter in which reserves Shabazz Muhammad, Adreian Payne and Zach LaVine set Rubio up to lead the Wolves to another road victory.
Rubio orchestrated a 21-9 finishing flourish that overcame Heat center Hassan Whiteside’s 22-point, 14-rebound, 10-block night. It was his second career triple-double.
Sidelined eight days by a mild hamstring strain, Rubio declared himself fit enough to play a Heat team that had won its past three games, four of its past five and hadn’t played since Thursday against Utah.
“Good,” Rubio said afterward when asked how he felt. “I’m not 100 percent, but I need to be out there helping the team.”
Rubio played 26-plus minutes and went only 1-for-7 from the field, but he provided the kind of guidance and stability on both ends of the floor that Mitchell seeks to start and finish games. Rubio was there at the end, steering his team to just what it needed: Andrew Wiggins’ 11 fourth-quarter points and LaVine’s defense and clutch shooting while playing the entire fourth quarter.
The Wolves also got just enough from rookie Karl Anthony-Towns (14 points, 14 rebounds), when for the second time in two weeks he struggled to handle the bigger, stronger and older Whiteside.
“Ricky provides leadership,” said Mitchell, who successfully turned to fouling Whiteside in the game’s closing minutes rather than let Dwyane Wade or Luol Deng beat them.
“We don’t turn the ball over. We can play with pace at times, but we also can make good decisions with the ball. It was good to have Ricky back, to have our team back.”
The Wolves took 97 shots and made just 37 percent of them, including 19 percent from three-point distance. But they improved to 5-6 even without a single home victory because of their defense and rebounding once again.
And because of Rubio, who credited his teammates instead.
“As a point guard, my job is to make them feel comfortable out there,” Rubio said. “I know the playbook really well, and I know what to run in every possession because I learn it. I study and I run the plays for them to make their job easy.”
Rubio also provides the pulse defensively, applying pressure on the ball and disrupting passing lanes.
“I’m trying to be aggressive, the point guard is the first one in the line,” Rubio said. “It shows the way to the other four who are behind, especially in this league where the point guard carries the ball all the time.
‘‘If you can make their point guard’s life a little harder, that’s a win for us.”
And so it was for the Wolves again on Tuesday, for that fifth time in six road games.
“I think he looked good,” said Wiggins, whose 24 points was his fifth 20-point game this season. “He’s going to get you the ball. He’s going to run the show. When he’s back, we win games.”