Five takeaways: Led by Wayne Ellington, Heat’s 3-point shooting on display in win at Minnesota

Heat guard Goran Dragic drives around a screen by center Hassan Whiteside during in the first quarter of Friday’s game in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

 

MINNEAPOLIS – After the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, coach Erik Spoelstra was more interested in seeing how his team responded Friday at Minnesota.

Spoelstra was looking for some consistency from a team that has been wildly inconsistent this season.

Finally, he found some.

The Heat put together a second consecutive impressive effort Friday, defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves, 109-97, at the Target Center. The Heat nearly led wire-to-wire, their only deficit being 2-0. Miami’s lead peaked at 20 points early in the fourth quarter.

The Heat (9-9) are back to .500 for the first time since they were 6-6 following consecutive wins at Phoenix and Utah.

“This was real big because we’re trying to trend in the right direction,” Hassan Whiteside said. “This is a well-coached Minnesota team with great young players and we knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. So we had to come out here with mental focus.”

While the Heat’s defense prevented the Timberwolves (11-8) from making a run, Wayne Ellington was leading a 3-point barrage. The Heat made 19 threes – a season high and tied for the second-most in team history. They were 19-of-39.

Ellington was 6-of-9 on threes and led the Heat with 21 points. Goran Dragic added 20. Whiteside had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Here are our five takeaways:

Ellington streaking: The Heat did all they could to bring back Ellington at $6 million and we are seeing why. After a slow start to the season in which he shot .314 on 3-pointers in the first eight games, Ellington slowly has heated up. With his six threes Friday, he now is 15-of-27 from long distance in his past three games. He is shooting 43-of-100 on threes for the season.

“It’s just catching a rhythm early, getting a good look early on, and then find myself in a rhythm and it just gets easier and easier,” Ellington said.

Nice start to the trip: The Heat are in the midst of a month-long stretch of 14 road games and five at home. This trip includes three teams (Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Knicks) with winning records. The objective was clear at the start, split the four games and then start taking care of business at home like they did against Boston. But with Friday’s win, the Heat now can look at going at least 3-1, which would give them a big boost and start feeling good about the season heading in the right direction.

“We beat Boston, the hardest team in the league, and Minnesota is a great team,” Dragic said. “Now, we still can’t relax and try to have the same formula, be aggressive on defense and share the ball.”

Another big effort from backcourt: Dragic and Dion Waiters continue to put up big numbers. The backcourt combined for 53 points and 10 assists against the Celtic and stayed aggressive Friday, combining for 37 points and 10 assists. Dragic did most of his damage in the first half with 15 points before Waiters took over in the third quarter with 10 of his 17 points. The duo combined to shoot 8-of-16 on 3-pointers.

Controlling KAT: Spoelstra opted to put the 6-foot-7 Justise Winslow on 7-foot Karl-Anthony Towns and the move worked. Towns, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the first meeting between the teams, a 125-122 Minnesota overtime win, missed all five of his shots in the first half Friday and closed with a very misleading 18 points and 11 rebounds. He had just two points and four rebounds and was 1-of-9 from the floor through three quarters. Winslow had help from Whiteside, who also spent some time on the Minnesota center. Whiteside missed the first meeting between the teams because of a sore knee.

“He’ll battle, it’s not the first time Justise has played a bigger player,” Spoelstra said. “He set the tone at the beginning with his screens, quickness, his physicality, getting him off the block, but also pressuring on the top. We had him on the perimeter quite a bit at times and Justise was able to occupy him up there.”

Slumping Johnsons: The Heat are not getting the production this season like they were getting a year ago from Tyler Johnson and James Johnson. Although the two have had their moments, they haven’t been the dynamic duo that made the Brothers Johnson a thing in 2016-17. The two combined for just five points Friday and were 3-of-15 from the floor.

[Heat forward James Johnson saddened by news that injuries may force friend Derrick Rose to step away from NBA]

[Mailbag: Did the Miami Heat make a mistake drafting Bam Adebayo?]

[Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters asked Hassan Whiteside to set better screens. Message received … and fulfilled]

[Short-term memory helps Heat’s Mr. Clutch – Dion Waiters – sink Celtics in final three minutes]

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