Timberwolves seek relief on road against Heat
MIAMI — Perhaps a road trip will do some good for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves (16-19), who will visit the Miami Heat on Sunday night, lost at home to the 10-24 Atlanta Hawks on Friday. The Timberwolves shot just 55.3 percent from the foul line (21 of 38) and they heard boos from the home crowd.
“That’s fans for you,” said Timberwolves 6-foot-8 forward Andrew Wiggins, who made just 5 of 12 free throws despite being a 73.9 percent career shooter from the stripe.
While the Timberwolves could emulate one of those “Wanna get away?” airline commercials, they are just 4-13 on the road this season, and they will be playing a Heat team that has won six of its past seven games.
Miami (17-17) entered Saturday tied for sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a little more than half a season yet to play.
Neither team will have its top point guard in the lineup. In fact, the Timberwolves could be without their top two point guards as starter Jeff Teague and backup Derrick Rose are questionable because of ankle injuries.
Teague, who is averaging 11.6 points and leads the team with 8.3 assists, hasn’t played since Dec. 15.
Rose, who is second on the team in scoring (18.9) and assists (4.8), sprained his right ankle on the final play of regulation in the loss to Atlanta. He had 25 points and nine assists against the Hawks.
Meanwhile, the Heat are without 2018 All-Star point guard Goran Dragic, who hasn’t played since Dec. 10 and is expected to miss several more weeks after knee surgery.
With Dragic out, the Heat have found a surprising answer in forward Justise Winslow, who had never played point guard before this month.
Miami is 5-1 since it started using Winslow at the point. And Winslow is coming off one of the best games of his career in Friday’s 118-94 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Winslow had game highs in four categories — points (24), rebounds (11) assists (7) and steals (2).
“He is inspiring us on both ends of the court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the media when asked about Winslow. “He has been rock solid in his floor game. He’s becoming a complete basketball player.”
Winslow, who has scored at least 20 points in three straight games, is still often lacking as a perimeter shooter. For example, he missed all four of his 3-point attempts against Cleveland.
But, overall, he has solidified Miami’s all-around game in Dragic’s absence. That means getting the ball to standouts such as shooting guard Josh Richardson, who leads the team with an 18.4 scoring average, and center Hassan Whiteside, who can be a beast inside.
Whiteside is averaging 13.2 points and leads Miami in rebounds (12.8) and blocks (2.6).
Heat forward James Johnson, who has started 17 games but left the game against the Cavaliers in the first quarter because of illness, is expected back against the Timberwolves. He is averaging 7.9 points and 3.3 rebounds.
In addition, Miami’s Dion Waiters, who had been a starting shooting guard but has missed the entire season after ankle surgery, is making his comeback in the G League. His return to the NBA appears to be imminent.
“It’s a great opportunity for (Waiters) to get some five-on-five work,” Spoelstra said.
As for Minnesota, 7-foot center Karl-Anthony Towns leads the team in scoring (21.2), rebounds (11.8) and blocks (1.7). The first overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Towns was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2016 and an All-Star in 2018.
But while Towns has proved to be a franchise player — and his matchup with Whiteside on Sunday should be fun to watch — more is expected from Wiggins, who has been criticized at times for a perceived lack of effort.
Wiggins’ scoring average has decreased from 23.6 in 2016-2017 to 17.7 last season and 16.6 entering Sunday’s game.
His field-goal percentage has also taken a hit, from .484 to .481 to .457, and all of that helps explain the boos.
Not that it seems to bother Wiggins.
“We’ve got some (crappy) fans and some good fans,” he said. “That’s just how it works.”