The Timberwolves (3-3), who also play at New Orleans on Wednesday, are coming off a needed 119-116 win Friday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jimmy Butler returned after a two-game absence due to an upper respiratory illness to score 25 points in his best performance since being acquired from the Chicago Bulls in the offseason.
Karl-Anthony Towns continued his stellar start with season highs of 33 points and 19 rebounds in recording his fifth double-double in Minnesota’s first six games. The third-year center is averaging team highs of 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 57.4 percent.
Miami (2-3) have split the first four games of their season-longest six-game home stand, but the two losses have come in the last two games. Goran Dragic scored 22 points in Saturday’s 96-90 loss to Boston in which the Heat matched a season-worst 19 turnovers, and Dragic sounded an ominous tone after Miami scored only 37 points in the middle two quarters.
“We need to bounce back,” the guard told the Sun Sentinel. “I don’t want to have the (same) season as last year, where it’s already late and we figure out things. We need to do it now because it’s important.”
Getting starting center Hassan Whiteside back would be a huge help. He missed his fourth straight game with a bruised left knee and is day-to-day. The 7-footer had 26 points and 22 rebounds in his only game, Miami’s season-opening 116-109 loss at Orlando.
Three keys to the game
Feed the KAT - Towns has shot 50 percent or better in all six games for the Timberwolves, and the chance of him operating in the low post against a Heat team missing Whiteside and starting a rookie at center in Bam Adebayo would all but extend that streak to seven. Towns is shooting 63.9 percent on shots from 14 feet and closer and has been efficient, accounting for 31.9 percent of Minnesota's baskets on 26.4 percent usage.
Get Waiters going from deep - Dion Waiters parlayed a strong 2016/17 with Miami into a 4-year, $52 million contract this summer. While his overall shooting percentage is nearly identical at 42.2 percent (he shot 42.4 percent in 2016/17), he has made only 30.8 percent of his attempts (8 of 26) from beyond the arc after connecting at a 39.5 percent clip last season. Waiters is 7 for 20 from long range on this home stand and needs to be better, especially if Whiteside is unavailable, for Miami to win consistently.
A chance for Minnesota to get right defensively - Through games played Saturday, the Wolves were the only team in the league allowing opponents to shoot better than 50 percent (51.7), and they are tied for 26th in scoring defense at 114.6 points per game allowed. Miami, in the four games without Whiteside, have gone more to the perimeter and attempted 128 3-pointers, making 44 (34.4 percent). One of the by-products, though, is there's no one to crash the offensive glass. Miami have just 26 offensive rebounds without their starting center and just 33 second-chance points. If the Wolves can close out the Heat's outside shooters, they have a good chance to win.
Matchup to watch
Andrew Wiggins vs James Johnson - Johnson has been quietly efficient on the offensive end for the Heat, averaging 14.0 points on 54.7 percent shooting. But if you take away his 3-for-17 shooting from 3-point range, that number soars to 72.2 percent. The one thing Johnson does exceptionally well is finish at the rim, where he's shooting 79.2 percent. Minnesota allow 113.8 points per 100 possessions when Wiggins is on the court, and while he is an elite scorer, he must improve his play on the defensive end.
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Jimmy Butler | C - Karl-Anthony Towns | SF - Andrew Wiggins | PF - Taj Gibson
Miami Heat projected starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Dion Waiters | C - Bam Adebayo | SF - James Johnson | PF - Josh Richardson
While the Heat won both games last season, it wasn't due to a lack of effort from Towns, who shot 24 of 37 from the field and scored 66 points in the two contests while pulling down 19 rebounds. If Butler can get to the rim against Miami, look out. He went 34 of 36 from the foul line and averaged 25.3 points in his first three games against the Heat in 2016/17. In the last one, he went 1 for 13 and took just two free throws.
Dragic is also a strong play for fantasy players. He has averaged 21.3 points on 55.8 percent shooting, including 40 percent (16 of 40) from 3-point range, and 6.6 assists in his last 9 games against Minnesota.
Both teams don't have many positive individual trends between them when it comes to the spread, but the stat that immediately jumps out is the Heat are 1-9-1 against the spread in their last 11 home games. And with Minnesota only a 2.5-point favorite with a red-hot Towns against a Miami team potentially without its starting center, that feels like a strong play to continue the Heat's struggles at home. The over is 5-0-1 in Minnesota's games, but at 216.5 points, it's a tricky proposition if Whiteside doesn't play even with the Timberwolves struggling defensively.
The Timberwolves are due for a blowout victory since their first three wins this season have come by a combined nine points. The favorable matchup is there in the middle for Towns, less so if Whiteside is available, but Butler's effort against Oklahoma City on Friday night proved a valuable lesson in winning that the young Wolves should expand upon here. Dragic didn't cut an angry figure in his post-game comments after Miami's loss to Boston, but it's still noticeable to be concerned after just five games that your team isn't playing a full 48 minutes. Look for the Wolves to finally get it right on the defensive end against an offensively challenged Heat team in a 115-94 victory.
This game will be televised locally by Fox Sports Sun and Fox Sports Net North. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm EDT.
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