MINNEAPOLIS – The Miami Heat never trailed in a 115-113 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday but they certainly came close.
After leading the entire game, Miami committed consecutive turnovers in the final 30 seconds giving Minnesota two chances at a victory.
But Andrew Wiggins missed twice – a 19-footer with 11 seconds remaining and a 15-foot jumper at the buzzer with James Johnson closing on defense – to give the Heat their 11th consecutive win.
“We actually came into the game expecting the final furious competition at the end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have two teams that are very tough-minded. We were expecting a dogfight coming into it. We were able to eke one out.”
Miami (22-30) survived thanks mostly to Goran Dragic, who put on a shooting clinic. The Heat guard finished with 33 points (one off his Heat high) by making all but two of his nine 3-point attempts as the Heat shot 15-of-28 from beyond the arc.
“He’s in a great place, mentally, physically,” Spoelstra said. “His confidence level has grown but his game has also improved now. He started out the game knocking down the threes but down the stretch those aren’t the shots you’re going to get are open threes. And then he was able to put the ball on the floor and make plays.”
The Heat rode their hot 3-point shooting to their highest scoring half of the season, leading 71-57 at the break. Miami made 11-of-14 threes in the first 24 minutes, including five from Dragic and three from Rodney McGruder.
The Heat never trailed despite Minnesota (19-33) keeping the deficit in single digits for most of the third quarter and pulling to within 93-92 on a Ricky Rubio jumper with 10:38 to play and 114-113 on a three-point play by Wiggins with 22 seconds remaining.
But the Heat make clutch shot after clutch shot in the fourth to extend their winning streak.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 35 points.
Streaking Heat: The Heat’s 11th straight victory matches the fifth longest in team history and comes immediately following a first half of the season in which Miami was 11-30, which equaled the franchise’s fourth worst record for the first 41 games. The Heat have an opportunity to extend the streak with their next four games against teams with losing records, starting Wednesday in Milwaukee. The Bucks are one game ahead of the Heat.
“When you dig deep on it you look at the way they’re defending and as an organization that’s always been a high priority and so everyone is getting a handle on that for them,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The way they’re playing so unselfishly offensively. They have great ball movement right now, they’re sharing the ball and they’re shooting the 3 extremely well.”
Three-peat: Dragic has quietly climbed his way among the leaders in 3-point shooting. He was sixth in the league entering Monday, having made 42.9 percent. But that does not begin to show how hot the point guard has been of late. Dragic entered Monday have made 10-of-12 3s in his last four games. He then opened the game by nailing his first seven threes giving him a ridiculous 86.7 percent on threes in five games. Dragic finished 13-of-17 from the field. When Dragic made his seventh straight Thibodeau threw his arms up as if to say, “I surrender.”
“The rim looked good,” said Dragic, who added nine assists. “The three pointer was really easy. There was not contest. My teammates were finding me on the open shots. It was just one of those nights. I felt really comfortable shooting the shot.”
Another strong effort from Whiteside: It wasn’t a 30-20 like he had on Saturday, but Hassan Whiteside was plenty good against Minnesota. The Heat’s center had 19 points and 13 rebounds and even contributed two assists, which gives him 32 on the season, breaking his single season high of 30 set last year. Whiteside had a big free throw with 8.5 seconds to play to give Miami a two-point lead.
“We locked in,” Whiteside said. “We’ve had so many close games we’re mentally tough.”
The defense rested: The Heat were able to maintain their lead despite playing shaky defense. The Wolves shot 53.8 percent and were at 57.6 percent through three quarters, including 12-of-19 in the third. The Heat held Andrew Wiggins in check for the first half, limiting him to six points. But Wiggins got hot in the third quarter and scored 12 points, keeping Minnesota within striking distance.
“We never got into a great typical defensive stand that we’ve been accustomed to building those habits the last couple of weeks,” Spoelstra said. “We finally got a couple of stops at the end but we never put together a stretch that was four or five stops in a row the way we like it.”
Sioux Falls proud: On the day when a Sioux Falls alumnus (Okaro White) was signed to a two-year contract, the Heat showcased their D-League alumni team late in the first quarter when Spoelstra had White, Whiteside, Rodney McGruder and Tyler Johnson on the floor, all four having spent time in South Dakota.
“We want to invest our time and resources in players who want to explore being the best they can possibly become,” Spoelstra said. “We’re going to give them everything we have. The D-League is extremely important for us,” Spoelstra said. “We develop guys. We’ve proven they can be down there for three months and all of a sudden be in our rotation with us.”