Barry Jackson

Where Heat stands in playoff race after loss. And Waiters’ theory for Heat unraveling

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) struggles to control the ball as Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) defends against him in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 5, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) struggles to control the ball as Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) defends against him in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 5, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn) AP

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 111-109 loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday at Target Center, Miami’s third loss in a row at a most inopportune time:

The Heat, which could have moved to seventh in the East with a win on Friday, instead remained ninth.

With Orlando beating Atlanta and Detroit losing at Oklahoma City, Miami stands one full game behind the Nets and Pistons and 1.5 behind the No. 6 Magic. And No. 9 Charlotte is just one game back of the Heat after beating Toronto.

But here’s the good news: Miami still controls its own destiny and can make the playoffs by winning its final three games (at Toronto, home against Philadelphia and at Brooklyn).

That’s because the Heat would win a two-team tiebreaker with the Nets by beating Brooklyn in the season finale (to win the season series) and would also win a three-team tiebreaker with the Nets and Pistons by virtue of having the best record in head-to-head competition among those three.

Miami also would get in the playoffs if the Nets, Pistons, Magic and Heat finish tied.

The Nets play at Milwaukee on Saturday and at Indiana on Sunday before hosting Miami on Wednesday.

The Pistons host Charlotte and Memphis and close at the Knicks.

Orlando plays at Boston and at Charlotte.

Miami would lose a two-team tiebreaker against Detroit (because of conference record) or Orlando (because of the head to head series, which the Magic won).

“Our backs are fully against the wall,” Erik Spoelstra said. “This is an awesome experience for our team. You have to embrace this and find a way to rise to the challenge.”

Dwyane Wade’s chance for another game-winner bounced off the rim.

With the Heat down two, Wade pump faked three times against Josh Okogie and saw his 25-foot three pointer bounce off the rim as time expired.

“I was trying to will it in with my body,” Wade said. “Got him up a couple times, got a good shot, got a good look at it, came off a little to the left.”

Said Spoelstra: “I will take that shot 10 times out of 10. He broke open free right into his wheelhouse. A couple different things that could have happened. I have said that time and time again, I will go to my grave with him with the ball and the game on the line.”

Wade scored 21 in 14 first half minutes on a variety of patented Wade moves. Wade’s 21 points were his most in a first half this season.

But he scored only three in the second half on 1 for 7 shooting.

Wade received a loud standing ovation before the game and was embraced by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who gave him a gift including jerseys of Kevin Garnett and other standout Timberwolves.

“I was surprised and told Glen Taylor and his wife thank you for this honor,” Wade said. “I appreciate it. I got some nice jerseys, some legendary ones with Garnett, so the collection is definitely nice.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari, in town to attend the Final Four, came on the court at halftime to embrace Wade.

Wade was asked an interesting question Friday by Timberwolves announcer Dave Benz, the former Miami sportscaster for the now defunct WAMI TV, who asked Wade where he stands compared with Dan Marino in the pantheon of Miami sports legends.

“I’ve heard it for a while,” he said of the Marino comparison. “So it doesn’t feel weird no more. But at first, when it first started? Yeah. But when I look back on it, I’ve done everything I could, so wherever they want to rank me in this city, this state, I’m OK with it. I think it’ll be the right position.[Marino] was definitely on the list when I came in, a guy that it might be cool one day to reach that level. But he’s the main one I think about.”

As far as what athletes should rank first, Wade said: “I respect the ones that have come before me, and there’ll be someone else who comes after me, as well, that will be right up there, as well. It’s a big state; we can all share.”

Dion Waiters has a theory about why the Heat’s offense mustered just 40 points (on 39.5 percent shooting) in the second half after a 69-point first half (on 62 percent shooting).

“We started to hold the ball a little bit; we stopped trusting each other,” Waiters said. “We’re a dangerous team when the ball is popping, we moving, penetrating, collapsing the defense and finding the open guy.

“Down the stretch, everybody was trying to get a bucket. It was desperate. We had a sense of urgency, but we could have done a better job of operating in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve got to trust each other late in games, late in shot clocks, just trust we can get a great shot, good to great. That’s what we try to preach.”

Spoelstra appeared to agree, noting the third-quarter regression after taking a 69-61 lead at halftime “started by us missing some open looks and it led to frustration. And then we had some tough looks in the fourth quarter, similar to the fourth quarter [Wednesday against Boston], where we didn’t trust or move the ball. And when we did get some good looks, we weren’t able to knock those down, and that’s probably from lack of rhythm from the ball not moving the way it needed to.”

Waiters, who scored 22 points, also was irked that a foul wasn’t called on his missed three with 34 seconds left and Miami down three.

“You look at that three I took, he didn’t go for the ball, he went for my elbow, turned my elbow,” Waiters said. “Late in the game, the officiating needs to see that. The game is too important for us for missed calls like that. I don’t get calls anymore. That [stunk].”

The Heat unveiled its 27th different starting lineup, and the results were less than spectacular.

The starting unit of Goran Dragic, Waiters, Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk and Justise Winslow hadn’t played a single minute together all season before Friday.

But they were at a deficit as a group Friday, with Minnesota outscoring the Heat’s starters 19-18 to begin the game, and then outscoring them 14-6 to start the third quarter.

Winslow, who had been playing mostly point guard before the injury that sidelined him nine games, started at small forward in place of injured Josh Richardson and handled the ball less but said he’s fine with that.

Dragic scored 15 but went 0 for 6 in the second half. Derrick Jones Jr. was a healthy scratch, with Spoelstra instead giving 28 minutes to James Johnson (15 points, five rebounds) and Rodney McGruder (four points in nine minutes).

The Heat’s tag-team center combo held Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns in check but were victimized by Wolves backup center Gorgui Dieng and had too many defensive lapses.

Towns entered 15th in the league in scoring at 24.4 points per game and tied for sixth in rebounding at 12.5. He closed with 13 points and 12 rebounds and a ridiculous 11 turnovers.

But Dieng scored 19 and the Heat couldn’t control the penetration of Tyus Jones. Dario Saric (19) and Andrew Wiggins (18) also did damage.

Adebayo finished with eight points, four rebounds and four steals in 32 minutes, while Hassan Whiteside closed with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes, with those two sharing the court (a rarity this year) for all of three seconds.

“We never got a handle on our Miami Heat type defense and we paid the price for it in the third quarter, allowing Tyus Jones to get going,” Spoelstra said.

Said Waiters: “Our defense the last three minutes, we need that from the start of the game.”

With Friday’s loss, the Heat (38-41) is now assured of not having a winning record this season after finishing 44-38 last season.