Miami Heat

Five takeaways: Heat went away from winning formula and paid for it in loss to Timberwolves

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra ponders his options during a second quarter timeout Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra ponders his options during a second quarter timeout Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 113-104 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves (17-19) on Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

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1. The Heat (17-18) went away from its winning formula and paid for it. What’s been the Heat’s recipe during this positive stretch? Keep its own turnovers and its opponent’s points down

On Sunday, Miami committed 20 turnovers and allowed Minnesota to score 24 points off those mistakes. The Timberwolves also finished with 113 points.

Miami is now 1-5 when committing 18 or more turnovers and 6-17 when allowing 100 or more points.

“We haven’t had a game like this in a while, where our offense really hurt us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This was more indicative of early in the season with 20 turnovers that led to 24 points in a possession game and then add on [Minnesota’s] 17 offensive rebounds. It was just too much to overcome.”

Throw in the fact the Heat shot just 41.1 percent and wings Rodney McGruder, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow combined to shoot 11 of 38 (28.9 percent), and it just wasn’t a game Miami usually wins.

“It’s tough to win those games, especially when our defense is not as great as it’s been like when we can stop a team and keep them under 100 points, which you’re not going to do every night,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who finished with 21 points off the bench. “Those nights you need guys to fill it up. Tonight was one of those tough offensive nights for us, but it happens in this league.”

2. Once Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns got going, there was no stopping him. Whether it was Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olnyk, Hassan Whiteside or even the 6-foot-7 Derrick Jones Jr., Towns had his way with the Heat’s defense to dominate with 34 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and six blocks to make for the absence of guards Derrick Rose (right ankle sprain) and Jeff Teague (left ankle inflammation).

Maybe the most impressive part of Towns’ performance was his 10 offensive rebounds. Those second-chance opportunities helped make up for Minnesota’s inefficient shooting night (40.4 percent).

“I wanted to set the tone with the energy, intensity and effort on the defensive end,” Towns said. “I wanted to make a lot of disruption on the defensive end.”

According to Basketball Reference, the only other player in NBA history to finish a game with 34 or more points, 18 or more rebounds, seven or more assists and six or more blocks is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who did it on Nov. 14, 1975 when he produced a packed stat line that included 35 points, 19 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“The stat line was very impressive by itself, but the impact of the timeliness of his plays — every time it seemed like we got it to six, he had a big bucket or a rebound, or something that just kept their momentum going and kept us at bay,” Spoelstra said of Towns.

“One of the biggest plays he had that was impressive: We got the ball out of his hands in the post, ball swung around all over the place and then he stepped back and hit a three right in front of our bench. I believe that put it up to almost double digits if not double digits, but, yeah, those were winning numbers tonight, for sure.”

This has been quite the stretch for Towns, as he’s averaging 28.3 points, 19 rebounds, 5.3 assists and three blocks in his past three games.

3. Derrick Jones Jr. continues to prove his worth as an offensive rebounder. Starting in place of the ill James Johnson, the lanky and uber-athletic forward finished with seven offensive rebounds against the Timberwolves. He ended the night with 16 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes.

There are no plays run for Jones, but he gets points anyway because of … his offensive rebounding. Notice a theme? His first four points came on putbacks off offensive boards.

After Sunday’s performance, Jones is averaging 3.2 offensive rebounds in his past 11 games.

That skill has earned Jones a consistent spot in Miami’s rotation, as he’s now played in the past 12 games and is averaging 20.1 minutes during that stretch. Jones received six DNP-coach’s decisions earlier this season, but it’s been hard to keep him out of the rotation lately.

4. Could Hassan Whiteside’s awful free-throw slump be over? After a 5-of-36 stretch from the free-throw line, the Heat’s starting center has now made four of his last seven free throws over the past two games.

It’s a very small sample size. But that’s a good sign for Whiteside, who has been working hard behind the scenes to end his struggles from the foul line. After using a jump shot technique in the past, Whiteside has turned to a more flat-footed routine that emphasizes balance.

Whiteside is still shooting just 44.2 percent from the foul line, but he’s been looking more comfortable with the shot in the last two games. He made a career-best 70.3 percent of his free throws last season, and he wants to get as close to that number as possible.

“I got a routine,” Whiteside said of his free-throw shooting. “I’m just going to stick to that and keep working at it and get back to the 70s like I was.”

5. There are still going to be growing pains for Justise Winslow along the way.

Yes, December was probably the best month of his NBA career. He averaged 14.8 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from three-point range, 5.6 rebounds and four assists in 13 December games.

But that doesn’t mean the growing pains are over for the 22-year-old Winslow. Sunday was proof.

After scoring 24 on 11-of-21 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and seven assists in Friday’s win over the Cavaliers, Winslow struggled against Minnesota with 10 points on an inefficient 4-of-15 shooting.

The fourth quarter was especially rough, as Winslow missed all six of his shots in the period.

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.
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