Miami HEAT at Minnesota Timberwolves Game Preview

Photo Credit: David Sherman

The Miami HEAT face the Minnesota Timberwolves Friday night at Target Center. The HEAT fell to the Timberwolves 125-122 in OT in their last meeting on Oct. 30. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What impressed you the most about Miami’s streak-ending win over Boston?

Couper Moorhead: It was all about the defense. Miami held Boston to its lowest Shot Quality score of the season, and nothing about that was a mistake. Yes, the Celtics committed some reasonably unforced errors, but the HEAT were the aggressors the entire night as they were every bit as physical and energetic on Wednesday that they weren’t in the previous loss to Indiana. Better yet, even though the defensive focus was present throughout the lineup it was good to see the second unit – joined usually by either Dion Waiters or Josh Richardson – be largely responsible for the most significant scoring spread in the game as Boston had great difficulty generating clean and consistent offense. Second-unit defense was a huge part of this team’s identity last season and the more they can get back to that the better off everyone will be.

Yes, Boston did eventually go on a 16-2 run to make it a real game after Miami had led for most of the evening, but that’s been their identity all season as they’ve regularly dug themselves out of holes. For the HEAT’s part, they never panicked defensively and kept grinding possessions out to allow for a pair of Dion Waiters threes to be the difference makers.

Joe Beguiristain: Miami’s sharpness and focus on both ends really impressed me. For starters, the HEAT got back to their identity and played stout defense against the Celtics. In particular, Justise Winslow defended Al Horford very well and Josh Richardson did a great job of making things tough on both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Hassan Whiteside, meanwhile, did a nice job of rotating and helping out his teammates. Thanks to all that, Boston shot just 41.7 percent on the night.

While Miami’s defense was superb, the team’s offensive execution was perhaps just as impressive. Goran Dragić and Dion Waiters played great and combined for 53 points, but the HEAT’s role players also got the job done. Winslow showed some nifty moves inside, Tyler Johnson kept Boston on its heels with a varied approach and Kelly Olynyk scored all six of his points in the fourth quarter. Simply put, Miami wasn’t fazed at all by the Celtics’ No. 1 rated defense or 16-game winning streak heading into the night.

2: What did we learn from the first matchup with Minnesota?

Couper: That for as talented as the Timberwolves are – they’ll be a Top 10 offense all season as long as they stay healthy – they can still be a bit of a work in progress on the defensive end. Even though the HEAT shot just 7-of-27 from deep in that first game, they still shot over 52.7 percent thanks to driving lanes to the rim being regularly open. Dion Waiters, in fact, set career highs in both makes and attempts at the rim as he and Andrew Wiggins traded haymaker drives down the stretch of regulation and overtime. That said, Minnesota’s defense has been trending in a more positive direction lately and they’ve been more than solid whenever starter Taj Gibson is on the floor, so Miami shouldn’t expect to simply walk into easy points. This is still a Tom Thibodeau team after all.

Joe: We learned that the Timberwolves can attack you with a bunch of different weapons. Even though Miami held Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler in check for the most part (the duo combined for 38 points on just 12-of-36 shooting), Jeff Teague hit some big buckets late to give Minnesota the win in overtime.

That said, the HEAT had a lot of success on the offensive end against the Timberwolves. Like on Wednesday against Boston, Dragić played very well in the first half before Waiters took over late in the contest. In fact, Waiters was the one who forced overtime with a blow-by drive against Butler.

However, as Coup stated above, Minnesota’s defense has greatly improved since its last matchup with Miami on Oct. 30. In fact, the Timberwolves have tallied the 10th best defensive rating since that point, as they’ve given up 102.8 points per 100 possessions in their last 11 games.  

While things could be a bit tougher on the offensive end for the HEAT this time around, they’ll always give themselves a chance to win if they stay committed to their defensive principles.

3: How will Hassan Whiteside’s presence affect this game?

Couper: Erik Spoelstra had to literally throw Bam Adebayo to the wolves when Whiteside was available last time out, a tough matchup with Karl-Anthony Towns for any player much less a rookie. With Whiteside ready to go Miami’s rotation will be back in its comfort zone. Towns can still stretch Whiteside out defensively as well as just about any center in the league as Towns can not only shoot from outside but he can shoot on the move, coming off screens and setting his feet like Wayne Ellington. But Whiteside did very well Wednesday evening managing pick-and-roll defense while still getting out to Al Horford on the perimeter, so if he brings that same intensity Friday night then he’ll be doing his job regardless of whether or not Towns hits some contested jumpers. And on the other end of the floor, if Whiteside is setting hard screens then Miami’s guards will be able to get going downhill against a defense that doesn’t consistently bring help to the middle of the floor.

Joe: Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the premier big men in the game, but Whiteside has a significant weight and strength advantage on the 22-year-old. With that in mind, Whiteside should be able to do some damage in the paint, especially off his usual rim-runs and put-backs.

On the defensive end though, the 28-year-old will certainly have his hands full with Towns. The former Kentucky Wildcat can knock down shots from the perimeter (he’s shooting 37.5 percent from deep) and finish around the rim with ease. Still, Whiteside has been quite active defensively over the past week and has taken his role seriously as the team’s anchor on that end.

All in all, it should be a fun matchup to watch between two guys who don’t play against each other all that much. 

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Highlights:

Oct. 30 – Timberwolves at HEAT

March 17 – Timberwolves at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won two of three and are 8-9 on the season.
  • The Timberwolves have dropped two of three and enter the contest at 11-7.
  • Hassan Whiteside leads Miami in rebounds (13.2) and blocks (1.8) per game.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns leads Minnesota in points (20.4), rebounds (11.5) and blocks (1.4) per contest.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 100.5 (26)
  • HEAT Defense: 103.6 (13)
  • Timberwolves Offense: 107.2 (6)
  • Timberwolves Defense: 106.9 (23)