Miami Heat

Miami Heat loses its winning formula, falls to Minnesota Timberwolves to end 2018

Heat guard Derrick Jones Jr. (5) fights for an offensive rebound in the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
Heat guard Derrick Jones Jr. (5) fights for an offensive rebound in the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.

The common thread in the Miami Heat’s last eight wins is obvious: When the Heat’s opponent fails to crack 100 points, Miami wins.

On Sunday, the Minnesota Timberwolves crossed the century mark with 6:08 remaining, so 6:08 later the Timberwolves took down the Heat for a 113-104 win in Miami.

The loss was only the fifth for the Heat in its last 15 games, but Miami hasn’t won a game when its opponent scores more than 100 points since Dec. 2 against the Utah Jazz.

Minnesota steadily put points up against Miami, and hit 100 points when forward Dario Saric finished an and-one in transition. The three-point play gave the Timberwolves a 100-90 lead. The Heat (17-18) had a chance to make a run, keeping Minnesota (17-19) off the board for the next two minutes, but Miami’s offense faltered down the stretch to keep the Heat from climbing past .500 for the first time this season.

Center Karl-Anthony Towns finally ended the Timberwolves’ drought, sinking a contested three-pointer from the left wing with 4:06 left. Point guard Tyus Jones hit a pull-up jumper from the baseline on the next possession to put away the Heat in Miami. Towns, who fouled out with 33.8 seconds left, finished with 34 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks in 37 minutes.

The Heat couldn’t find a consistent offensive punch in the final quarter. After Minnesota reached 100, small forward Derrick Jones Jr. threw down an acrobatic dunk through traffic, but the next three possessions — all of which ended with the ball in Justise Winslow’s hands — came up empty. The forward airballed a three on the next trip, then turned the ball over in the post and threw up another airball on the next two possessions.

Winslow, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, has been a massive bright spot since moving to point guard midway through in an ongoing 10-5 stretch for Miami, but his three turnovers Sunday helped to derail Heat’s offense in its final game of 2018. Even 21 points from guard Dwyane Wade and 17 from combo guard Josh Richardson couldn’t get Miami on track against Minnesota.

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The Heat, which finished with 19 turnovers as a team, found itself once again bitten by a number of issues which plagued them through the early weeks of the season against Minnesota. Another one: a slow start.

In the first two minutes, center Hassan Whiteside briefly went to the locker room to get three stitches above his left eye. In the first five minutes, the Timberwolves jumped out to an 8-1 lead. By the end of the first half, Minnesota held a 30-19 lead.

Quarters like these plagued the Heat throughout the early weeks and months of the season, but became less of an issue in the 10-4 stretch it brought into Sunday.

By halftime, the Timberwolves’ lead had nearly evaporated. Winslow went into the break with 10 points, two rebounds, two assists and four steals to cut Minnesota’s lead to 55-54 at the end of the second quarter.

The Heat could never quite get over the hump. Miami traded baskets with Minnesota for the early part of the third quarter before a 10-2 run for the Timberwolves in the final 2:40. The Heat went into the fourth quarter in an 86-77 hole it could never climb out of.

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