*Check out The Howl Podcast for everything Timberwolves HERE *
Game Preview: Timberwolves at Heat
Friday, March 17, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. at American Airlines Arena Miami, Florida
Minnesota enters tonight two days after losing Nemanja Bjelica for the season due to a left foot injury. Along with Shabazz Muhammed, Bjelca was one of the more important bench players on the Timberwolves roster. Over the month of March, he’s averaged 10-7-2.5 while shooting .460 from the field and posting a +/- of 1.5. It’s going to hurt not getting that production on the floor each and every night, and the Wolves chances at making a last minute playoff run are looking pretty grey at best. Prior to their loss in Boston, they were on a 6-3 run since the break. Although not necessarily a push over, Miami should prove to be a good indicator in Minnesota’s ability to bounce back from a little adversity.
The Miami Heat have been one of the strangest story lines during the month of March. Despite an injury to lottery pick Justice Winslow, the Heat are still within inches of the playoffs, holding onto a tie for the eighth seed with the Detroit Pistons. Much of the acclaim can be placed on the shoulders of Dion Waiters, who despite being shuffled around from team to team since being drafted by Cleveland in 2012, has been stellar in his tenure at Miami. Over the last 6 games he’s averaging 21-5-3 and shooting .474 from beyond the arc. Miami is 6-2 during the month of March, including back-to-back wins over Cleveland, and a win over Toronto. It looks like the 3-man tandem of Whiteside-Dragic-Waiters should be taken a little more seriously then previously thought.
PG: Ricky Rubio #9
SG: Brandon Rush #4
SF: Andrew Wiggins #22
PF: Gorgui Dieng #5
C: Karl-Anthony Towns #32
PG: Goran Dragic #7
SG: Dion Waiters #11
SF: Rodney McGruder #17
PF: Luke Babbitt #5
C: Hassan Whiteside #21
Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic – out/season (recurring ankle pain), Zach Lavine – out/season (Torn left ACL), Adreian Payne – doubtful (illness), Nemanja Bjelia – out/season (foot), Lance Stephenson – out (ankle)
Heat: Chris Bosh – out/season (illness), Josh McRoberts – out (foot), Wille Reed – probable (personal), Justice Winslow – out (shoulder)
Minnesota and Miami last faced-off in February, with the Heat pulling out the win in a last second nail-biter, 115-113.
Goran Dragic was on fire and had one of the best shooting nights of his career. He shot .765 from the field, including 7-9 from 3. Five men on the Heat roster were able to shoot .500 or better from the field, including Hassan Whiteside, who was able to bully himself to a 19-13 double-double.
It’s unfortunate because they’re isn’t really one player on the Timberwolves roster you can assign the bulk of the blame to. The tandem of Towns-Wiggins-Rubio had an unbelievable offensive night, with Rubio and KAT both posting double-doubles to go along with Wiggins 27 points. Perimeter defense was an issue, but Dragic also just had one of the those heat-check nights to end all heat-checks. There wasn’t much anyone could have done. Hopefully they can bounce back tonight.
Towns and Dieng shouldn’t be afraid to go toe-to-toe with Whiteside in tonight’s matchup. He struggles from the line, shooting .60 compared to the .75 league average and does most of his damage on the opposite side of the floor. The starters will be forced to play the brunt of the load tonight, and Towns and Wiggins will need to put in a high scoring effort from all areas of the floor. Towns ability to shoot from everywhere will be key, especially if the Heat decide to put Whiteside on him. If he can drag the Miami center out from beneath the basket he shouldn’t be able to be as effective as he has been this season on the defensive end.
Fox Sports North – Dave Benz (play-by-play), Jim Peterson (analyst)
Radio: 830 WCCO-AM – Alan Horton (play-by-play)
(All stats found on nba.com, and basketball-reference.com)