The Heat’s magical joyride continued on a cold winter night here Monday and this about sums it up: It took 83 days for the Heat to win 11 games this season. And it has taken just 21 days for Miami to win 11 games since.
Miami’s improbable winning streak, the best story in the NBA right now, reached 11 Monday, with Goran Dragic’s 33 points fueling a 115-113 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.
Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins missed a 15-footer with just under one second remaining.
“This situation early in the season, we would have lost,” said guard Dion Waiters, who played through a sprained ankle but was in considerable pain after the game.
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The Heat (22-30) produced its highest scoring first quarter (40 points) and highest scoring first half (71 points) and reached 100 points for the ninth consecutive game.
And Dragic was at the epicenter.
Dragic —who entered leading all starting NBA points guards in three-point percentage at 42.8 percent — was magnificent, scoring 21 in the first half and hitting his first seven threes before finishing at 13 for 17 from the field and 7 of 9 on threes. The seven threes were a career high. He also had 9 assists.
“The first few were really easy, not contested,” Dragic said. “You try to take what the game gives you.”
With Dragic putting together an exceptional season, is this Miami’s best point guard play in a long time?
“If it continues to translate to wins, I wouldn’t argue that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Throw in 19 points and 13 rebounds from Hassan Whiteside and 15 points from Rodney McGruder, and that was enough to overcome a 35-point game from Minnesota’s Karl Anthony Towns and 27 from Wiggins.
Miami led by 14 at the break but barely held on.
Ahead by seven with 39 seconds left, the Heat committed three turnovers in the final 39 seconds, two by James Johnson and another by Okaro White.
Spoelstra blamed himself, saying it was a “clever” strategy that Minnesota opted to trap instead of foul.
“That was more of a coaching issue on my part,” he said. “I didn’t handle it right in the timeouts. I’ve got to do my job.”
After Wiggins missed a jumper that would have given Minnesota the lead with nine seconds left, Hassan Whiteside hit only one of two free throws, leaving Miami ahead by two with 8.5 seconds left.
But Wiggins missed a jumper before the buzzer, with James Johnson closing in on him, and the Heat escaped.
“We dealt with a couple of punches,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve developed thick skin.”
Spoelstra credited that to the Heat going through so much collectively, including “how to play with a ridiculously bad record.”
The Heat opened 16 for 23 from the field and hit an absurd 11 for 14 threes in the first half. The 11 threes tied a franchise record for most threes in a first half.
Miami ended up shooting 52.3 percent overall and 53.6 percent on threes (15 for 28).
Miami not only is averaging 110 points in this winning streak – compared with 98 in the first half of the season – but has scored 116, 123 and 115 in its last three games.
“We’re sharing the ball; everyone knows what we’re doing,” Dragic said. “It’s fun. We can do multiple stuff – play slow, play fast. Every night, someone else has a huge game.”
And Dragic has had more than his share of huge games. His 33 points were seven short of his career high, established in Phoenix in 2014.
“I felt really comfortable shooting the ball,” he said. “I’ve felt great the whole season. Had a great summer.”
Spoelstra joked that he’s “not such a tyrant that I don’t want” this offensive surge and that “guys are gaining a ton of confidence offensively.”
But he said this type of defensive performance “won’t be good enough to win” consistently.
Minnesota closed at 53.8 percent from the field.
“We have to get back [to playing good] defense on the road,” he said. “We never got into the typical defensive stand we’ve been accustomed to the last coupe of weeks.”
The Timberwolves never led in the game but closed to within one point twice in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve had so many close games; we’re mentally tough,” Whiteside said.
The Heat tied the 1996-97 Phoenix Suns for the longest winning streak by a sub.-500 team in NBA history, according to FOX Sports Sun. The Heat stands just one win from the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, 12 by Golden State.
With the win, Miami remained two games behind Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The Heat is averaging more than 109 points per game in this winning streak, compared with 98.3 in the 41 games before.
Now the Heat must hope that Waiters makes a quick recovery from a left ankle injury sustained when he stepped on Minnesota forward Gorgui Dieng’s foot in the third quarter.
Waiters played through it, including six fourth quarter minutes, because “I couldn’t leave my guys.”
He said there was pain and swelling in the ankle after the game and he hopes the injury is merely a sprain and that he doesn’t miss any games.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Just hope and pray I feel better.”