Welcome to Part 26 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.
Tale of the tape: Minnesota split with Miami last season in two early season match-ups.
If you’ll remember, Zach LaVine was still coming off the bench at this point. In the Wolves 103-91 win, LaVine had 17 points and three assists off the bench to go along with Andrew Wiggins’ 24 points and Karl-Anthony Towns‘ 14 points and 14 rebounds.
In the loss, LaVine only had three points in 20 minutes, and KAT was held to just six points and four rebounds. The high scorers were Shabazz Muhammad with 14 and Gorgui Dieng with 10 points and six rebounds, both off the bench.
Had these games come later in the season, the Heat would have seen a much different team. At the very least, having LaVine in there would have had at least a minor impact — a smaller deficit if anything. The Heat were the third-seed in the East, but Minnesota looked like they were capable of playing at that level in those games.
What’s new? The Miami Heat have had quite the off-season.
The loss of perhaps the team’s greatest player of all-time in Dwyane Wade and the probable departure of the final member of the “Big Three” in Chris Bosh signals the end of an era. But with every end comes a new beginning, and the Heat have added some new pieces to help them maintain their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Dion Waiters is an interesting new face that enters the Miami lineup after spending the last few seasons with the Thunder. He has never really lived up to what was expected of him, and has found himself in a variety of roles as a result.
Waiters has spent most of his career coming off of the bench, but may be the starting shooting guard for the Heat come opening night. He averaged 12 points and four assists in 24 minutes per game in the preseason. It appears as though his shooting may be improved from past seasons. If that continues into the regular season, you can expect his touches to increase on the offensive end.
Wayne Ellington enters his first year in Miami as the likely backup to Goran Dragic at the point guard position. His production has been up and down throughout his career, and last season averaged just eight points and one assist in 21 minutes for Brooklyn. I don’t think the Wolves guards will have much of a problem with Ellington on either end.
The Heat also added Luke Babbitt via trade with the Pelicans during the off-season. He will see limited minutes off the bench for Miami, most likely in foul trouble situations. He shouldn’t be a key factor in the Timberwolves’ game plan.
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Rodney MacGruder signed with the Heat this off-season and has had a solid preseason. He averaged nearly 20 minutes off the bench and shot the ball well from inside the three-point line. It’s unclear what his role will be in the regular season–he could see some time at the two along with Josh Richardson, spelling Dion Waiters.
What’s the same? Hassan Whiteside is back, and looks to be the new face of the Heat. His rise to dominance has been impressive to watch, and his growth doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Towns and Dieng will have their hands full with Miami’s double-double machine on both ends. I think his rebounding ability is out of the question to slow down. If that is the case, keeping him at bay offensively will be the best way to neutralize him.
Justise Winslow also returns after a sub-par rookie season. He will be expected to take on a larger workload with all the departures from the Heat roster, and how he handles the expanded role will be vital to their success.
Winslow will need to improve upon his six points and five rebounds from a year ago in order to hold his own with the rest of the league. The Timberwolves have the advantage all through the depth of this position, and they will need to win that battle for the Wolves to come out on top.
The most-tenured member of the Heat starting five will be Goran Dragic. He is one of the best all-around point men in the league and is dangerous in all facets. His rebounding ability is very good for that position, so the Wolves will need to be sure to box out no matter where is on the floor. Dragic can score in volume and sees the floor better than most. How he goes could be how the whole team goes, so if Minnesota can manage to limit his numbers, they will be in good shape.
My prediction? Miami has such a different team this year than in the past, and I suspect that they will fall in the ranks of the Eastern Conference.
With the Timberwolves on the rise, another split in this series is safe to expect. The key will be overcoming Miami’s defense, as it typically ranks high among the league. However, the Wolves won’t need to score a ton to beat them, as their offense will not be as powerful as that of last season.
Minnesota handled the Heat fairly easily in two preseason match-ups, scoring over 100 points both times. Hopefully, we see that success in the regular season as well.
The first game between the Heat and Timberwolves will take place on February 6th in Minneapolis.