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Game Preview #25: Wolves vs. Heat

Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns will look to build on their combined 78 points on Saturday with a Monday night meeting in Miami with Jimmy Butler and Co.

Miami Heat v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves are coming off of their first game of the year where both Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns had massive scoring nights. Facing a Miami Heat team set to welcome back both Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, it will be a good test against one of the strongest teams in the East.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (19-5) vs Miami Heat (15-11)
  • When: Monday, December 18 at 6:30 PM CT
  • Where: Kaseya Center — Miami, FL
  • TV: Bally Sports North Extra
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, iHeart Radio App
  • Line: Wolves -2 | Total: 217.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Monday at 5:00 PM CT

Miami

AVAILABLE:

  • Bam Adebayo (left hip contusion)
  • Jamal Cain (left middle finger sprain)
  • Tyler Herro (left ankle sprain)
  • Josh Richardson (back spasms)

OUT:

  • Kyle Lowry (soreness)
  • Dru Smith (right ACL sprain)

Minnesota

AVAILABLE:

  • Anthony Edwards (right hip pointer)
  • Jaden McDaniels (sacral contusion)

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Josh Minott (illness)

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)

What To Watch For

Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Makings of a Big Offensive Night

The Heat are typically thought of as an excellent defensive team, which isn’t an unearned reputation as they rank 13th in the league in defensive rating. The bulk of their defensive success comes with their ability to do the little things. They force a ton of turnovers (sixth-best turnover rate) and end possessions with their rebounding (they allow the second-fewest offensive rebounds).

Aside from turnovers and rebounding (both are very important), the Heat’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, as they allow opponents to shoot incredibly high percentages at all three levels of the floor. The Heat’s defensive field goal percentages this season currently rank 29th at the rim (70.5%), 19th in the midrange (43%), and 27th from deep (39%). These percentages are not the marks of an above average defense.

Since Miami lacks much of any rim protection, especially with the health issues of Bam Adebayo, they tend to pack the interior and do their best to simply deter shots inside the arc by playing more zone and using conservative close-outs. This strategy has worked so far, as they allow the 11th-fewest shots at the rim and the 10th-fewest shots in the mid-range. However, it also means they allow the third-most shots from three.

This defensive alignment creates a ton of offensive opportunities for the Timberwolves if they can avoid turnovers. The stars and primary initiators must be adamant about attacking the lane. If they can beat the first line of the defense, there will be very little resistance meeting them at the rim or preventing lobs to Rudy Gobert. Additionally, the role players and off-ball scorers will need to be willing and eager to shoot. When the ball gets kicked out to them from the interior, they should have ample opportunities to let it fly. If a few of them find their groove, they could fill up the points column in a hurry.

Miami Heat v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Defensive Discipline

The Timberwolves’ identity as a team this season has been their stellar defense. When we’ve seen them get in trouble, though, it’s because the point-of-attack execution and screen navigation has been lacking. The importance of this is that if/once the initial defender is taken out of the play, then the rest of the team is forced out of their assignments while they make secondary rotations. These situations create open looks for shooters and opportunities for those shooters to attack closeouts to create even easier looks elsewhere.

If the point-of-attack defender isn’t consistently executing his job, Miami will surely create a myriad of opportunities. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat only rank 15th in the league in 3-point frequency, but they rank first in accuracy shooting 39.5%. Over their last five games, the Heat have six players who are averaging at least 2.5 3-point attempts per game and are shooting over 40%. Of those six, four of them are averaging at least 5.0 attempts.

In most cases, running shooters off the line can be enough. That isn’t a feasible option against this team, though, given their proclivity for ball movement, ball security, and midrange scoring. This season, per NBA Stats, the Heat rank sixth in passes per game, seventh in assist rate, and sixth in assist-to-turnover rate. Additionally, the rank second in mid-range shot frequency while shooting 44.1%. Amongst their roster, Miami only has one player who is shooting below 40% from the mid-range. When their shooters get run off the line, they are still more than capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers or finding an open teammate as the defense continues to scramble.

Miami Heat v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Dealing With a Troublesome Rookie

Jaime Jaquez Jr. has been nothing short of tremendous this season. Coming out of UCLA, he was billed as a Swiss army knife forward who would be ready to contribute immediately. The expectations of his contributions were much lower than this, though, at least this quickly.

The bulk of Jaquez’s impact has come on the offensive end as the Heat have an offensive rating that is 4.8 points per possession (PPP) higher when he’s on the floor than when he’s off (77th percentile). He also has an effective field goal rate of 57.7 (77th percentile), is shooting 66% at the rim (69th percentile), 44% in the midrange (74th percentile), and 39% from three (62nd percentile).

Jaquez Jr.’s sheer efficiency is eye popping, but how the Wolves matchup with him will be fascinating. Since Jaquez is mostly coming off the bench, Edwards likely won’t matchup with him directly a ton. Edwards shouldn’t have much of a problem defending him when he has the ball, but it’s everything that Jaquez does without the ball that could cause issues. Jaquez is a terrific cutter, off-ball mover, and offensive rebounder who is more than eager to capitalize on open pockets of space once his defender turns his head. Whether it’s Troy Brown Jr., Shake Milton, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Edwards, or even some Kyle Anderson, the defenders must be vigilant about not losing track of Jaquez.

Miami Heat Scrimmage Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

What Heat Team Takes the Floor?

The Heat are notorious for finding production out of players that most fans have never heard of. They have a lot of moving parts to their rotations and frequently have a different starting lineup, especially against the Timberwolves.

When these two teams met in late October, there was only one starter who also started in their game from Saturday night against the Bulls: Kyle Lowry, who is out for Monday’s game. Against the Bulls, the Heat started Butler, Caleb Martin, Orlando Robinson, Duncan Robinson, and Lowry, while Josh Richardson got 20 minutes, Kevin Love played 26 minutes, and Haywood Highsmith played 14 minutes off the bench. None of those three played in the October matchup. The team that the Timberwolves will be facing is essentially a brand-new matchup for them now that both Herro and Adebayo will make their returns, which will present a myriad of complications on both ends of the floor that the Timberwolves will essentially have to adjust to on the fly.