The Heat were ready to tank. Or at least, so it seemed at the outset of the season.
During the last offseason, the team had let the face of their franchise, Dwayne Wade, leave for Chicago amidst reports of tension between Wade and Miami Heat Mafia Don Pat Riley. The Heat were unable to bring in any big-name free agents, although they did resign Hassan Whiteside. Chris Bosh was declared unable to play due to his ongoing medical issues. To top it all off, the Heat have a clear incentive to tank, as due to their trade to Goran Dragic, the will lose their first round pick next year if it is not within the top 7.
If there ever was a time to rebuild, and perhaps move on from Goran Dragic, this was the time. The season certainly started that way and on January 11th the Heat had the second-worst record in the league at 11-30.
However, long-time island dweller Dion Waiters had other ideas.
Since that date, the Heat have gone 22-5 and at one point had 13 game win streak. This is the best record in the league. Dion Waiters has singlehandedly rebuilt brick-by-brick Waiters Island, where new condos are going up all the time.
The Heat have gone from potentially winning the lottery to a tie (in record) with the Pistons for the 8th seed. The Pistons currently have an edge with the tiebreaker.
The Heat have also been bolstered by strong play from Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Dragic, in particular, demolished the Wolves in their last matchup and is exactly the type of player who the Wolves have struggled to guard throughout the year. Shoot-first point guards who get run through a bunch of a pick and rolls had been making short work of the Timberwolves new defensive scheme. A good example was C.J. McCollum singlehandedly beat the Wolves in early January. However, hopefully the new and improved Timberwolves will be more successful in keeping Dragic in check.
On the Timberwolves end, they will be shorthanded after losing Nemanja Bjelica and Lance Stephenson in the previous game. It will be interesting to see how Thibs changes his rotations after losing Bjelica, as now the backup Power Forward spot is wide open.
The most likely options will be going bigger with Cole Aldrich and sliding Towns to more time as the Power Forward, playing Shabazz up a position, or even bringing in Adreian Payne for some spot minutes.
However, the Wolves wing position is getting awfully thin, as we are down to Wiggins, Brandon Rush, and Shabazz. The Wolves are quite lucky they haven’t had to deal with small injuries (for the most part), throughout the year, as they have been overloaded all year long at point guard and center without too much in between.
This would be a great game for Wiggins to get back on track. He has had a rough month and has had some really tough matchups of late. He will be matched up against either Dion Waiters or Rodney MacGruder, who I certainly had to google to figure out who he was. Certainly is not the same level of defensive capabilities as Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder. It should also be a fun matchup between Towns and Whiteside.
Expected Starting Lineups
Wolves - Zach LaVine (out for year), Nikola Pekovic (out for year), Nemanja Bjelica (out for year), Lance Stephenson (ankle).
Heat Josh McRoberts - (Out for year), Justice Winslow (out for year), Willie Reed (probable for personal reasons)
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Heat match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).
Factor / Wolves / Heat
eFG% / 51.0% / 51.1%
TOV% / 14.6 / 13.7
ORB% / 27.5% / 23.9%
FTR / .281 / .248
This distribution is a pretty common one this season. The Wolves have the edge in free throws and offensive rebounds while turning the ball over more and having a lower effective field goal percentage. However, looking at the Heat’s four factors from January 14th, which was the beginning of their turnaround.
eFG% / 54.5%
TOV% / 13.9
ORB% / 24.5%
FTR / .251
Surprisingly, they are not that different, other than a healthy bump in EFG. Certainly not what I was expecting, as over that same period the Heat do have the second-best net rating of 8.6 (the Wolves are at 1.9).
To be honest, it is really hard to reconcile scanning the Miami Heat’s roster and starting lineup in comparison to their 22-5 stretch. But wins are wins and the Heat deserve some respect. Waiters Island’s certainly wasn’t renovated on unbridled optimism. Eric Spoelstra also deserves credit for being resident wizard-in-chief of the Eastern Conference a la Ricky Carlisle.
Regardless, the Wolves need to win if their playoff hopes have any sort of semblance of being kept alive. However, the Heat need the win just as badly.
Heat 110 - Wolves 106
(but Wiggins scores 30+ points)