Five takeaways from the Heat’s heartbreaking 125-122 overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, which extended Miami’s losing streak to three games (the most for the Heat since before it won 13 games in a row last season).
1. The Heat came out with the necessary desire it had been searching for. One of the main complaints to come out of Sunday’s team meeting, players said, was a lack of fire and energy in back-to-back losses to the Spurs and Celtics. Miami answered the bell early and often.
It started on the defensive end with the Heat forcing the T’Wolves to miss their first eight shots.
Then, in the second quarter, Miami started swatting shots. Tyler Johnson, all of 6-4, 190-pounds, made a terrific effort flying across the court to deny 6-11, 251-pound center Gorgui Dieng at the rim. Moments later, Okaro White, playing for only the second time this season, blocked Shabazz Muhammad at the rim. Miami also hustled for loose balls. At one point in the second quarter, Goran Dragic went all out diving for the ball. He wrestled it away from the T’Wolves and eventually it led to a Kelly Olynyk layup.
The Heat hadn’t won the rebounding edge (it split it with Atlanta, Indiana) or second chance points battle through it first five games. Miami outrebounded Minnesota 50-40 and won the second chance point contest 23-14.
The Heat also outscored the T’Wolves 66-54 in the paint and outscored the T’Wolves 15-6 in fastbreak points.
“Our activity was certainly much better,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You could feel it. You could feel our presence defensively. I wish I could tell the team that this league is far. It’s not. It would have been a perfect stamp to come away with the win, but it just didn’t turn out that way. We get back to work tomorrow. We have to keep on plugging and working and pushing that rock up the hill.”
Dragic saw other reasons to feel good too.
“Our pace was better. Our ball movement was better. I felt like our defense was a little bit better,” he said. “Of course you want to win those kind of games. At the end you kind of feel a little bit better because you know we played good. It’s not like we played poorly. Of course you want to win, but we need to upgrade now from this game.”
2. Rookie Bam Adebayo was a big factor in the Heat’s increased energy. Making his third consecutive start in place of the injured Hassan Whiteside, who missed his fifth consecutive game, Adebayo had his best night yet in a Heat uniform – and his first career double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes.
“I fell like my mind is starting to slow down,” Adebayo said. “I’m not going too fast. I’m starting to pace myself. Coach is allowing me to get all these minutes. I thank him for it because he believes in me just like I believe in me and my team.”
Adebayo, 20, dunked it five times with three coming on alley-oops and two on offensive rebounds and putback slams. He actually did a respectable job guarding fellow Kentucky product Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but missed a last second shot in regulation because Adebayo was draped all over him.
“It was great to see,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo’s effort. “He’s been doing this in training camp. I talk about this with our team all the time – make us watch you in practice and then make us play you to where it’s unanimous, not just the head coach or the staff, but the players want you out there. He’s been extremely consistent with his approach. It’s refreshing to see a five-star recruit, an AAU kid who goes to college for one year, but has so many great habits and a work ethic that belies his actual age.”
3. Turnovers are becoming a common theme for the Heat in losses. Spoelstra said Sunday he thinks in order for the Heat to win games this season it needs to average between 12 to 14 turnovers per game at most.
After coughing it up 19 times in Saturday’s loss to the Celtics, the Heat looked like it had put the turnovers woes behind it with a two-turnover first quarter Monday against the T’Wolves. But the ball started to get slippery in the second quarter – just when the T’Wolves started cutting into Miami’s 13-point lead.
“It’s now been three games where the possession game has just really, really hurt us,” Spoelstra said. “This looked set up to be a great game down the stretch. It’s tough to give up that many in the turnover game, but also at the free throw line.”
Miami finished 17-of-25 at the free throw line. The turnovers were a bigger pain in the neck.
The Heat ended up turning it over a season-high 24 times – including 17 times in the second half and overtime. That’s not going to get it done. Dragic had a team-high six turnovers, Dion Waiters had five, and Olynyk had four.
Waiters had a monster night with 33 points. Dragic had 18 and Kelly Olynyk had a season-high 23 points, six rebounds and two assists. But the turnovers ultimately doomed Miami.
“Inside passes, especially in the paint, they kind of get us in trouble, especially against the teams that defend the paint well,” Dragic said. “Those turnovers hurt us tonight. But you know I felt like we had good spacing this game. We had a couple of open shots. The ball was moving so it’s a little bit of an improvement. But we still need to do a lot of work.”
4. The Heat’s three-point woes continued Monday. When the Heat went 30-11 over the second half of last season, Miami was the third-best three-point shooting team in the league (39 percent) over the stretch, averaging 11.1 three-pointers per game (sixth-best in NBA).
The rough start from distance to start 2017-18 hasn’t ended yet. Monday, Miami was 7-of-27 from beyond the arc. The Heat came in shooting 32.9 percent from three (22nd in the league) despite averaging the seventh-most attempts (31.6 per game) and 11th most three-point makes (10.4 per game).
Two of Miami’s sharpest shooters – Josh Richardson (1-of-6 on Monday) and Waiters (1-for-8 on Monday) – have really struggled out of the gate.
“You’ve just got to shoot those shots. It’s good shots for us,” Dragic said. “We get open shots, you don’t hesitate. You just shoot it. Some nights you’re going to make those shots. Some nights no. As long as the ball is moving we're always going to take those shots.”
5. Welcome back Okaro White. The 6-8, 215-pound second-year forward, who injured his shoulder late in the preseason, didn’t put up huge numbers in the boxscore in just his second game of the season. But he made some big plays late in the third quarter to help the Heat turn a 79-73 deficit into a 82-79 lead going to the fourth quarter.
White had a putback slam dunk on a Olynyk missed three-pointer, he drew a charge on Jimmy Butler and then the next time down the floor White buried a three-pointer to bring the Heat to within 79-78.
White had six points and a rebound in 17 minutes of work.