Timberwolves-Heat Preview

Sitting atop the Southeast Division and winning three of four

with improved defensive play doesn’t seem to be good enough for the

Miami Heat.

Extending that stretch with another victory over the Minnesota

Timberwolves may begin changing their mood.

The Heat attempt to build on perhaps their best defensive effort

of the season Tuesday night as they try to beat the Timberwolves

for the fifth time in a row.

Miami (15-6) has won three of four while limiting opponents to

an average of 87.8 points after giving up 103.3 over the previous

six.

The Heat’s latest defensive performance may have been their best

of the season as they beat Washington 102-72 on Saturday. They

allowed a season low in points while matching their mark for lowest

shooting percentage allowed at 37.5.

According to Chris Bosh, efforts like Saturday’s won’t mean

anything if they can’t build on them.

“We’re at the point where we have to really start getting some

carryover into other games,” Bosh said. “Just being consistent on

defense. I’m not worried about offense. Offense is going to take

care of itself, especially when we start getting more stops.”

The Heat have had few issues offensively, leading the Eastern

Conference with 103.1 points per game. That may only increase

against the Timberwolves (12-10) since Miami has won four in a row

in the series while averaging 110.0 points on 52.9 percent

shooting.

LeBron James came two rebounds shy of a triple-double in a

103-101 road win in the most recent matchup Dec. 30. He finished

with 34 points and 10 assists, including one on Dwyane Wade’s

game-winning alley-oop assist with 4.6 seconds left.

Wade finished with 19 points, but he’s averaging 30.4 over his

last nine with the Timberwolves.

Minnesota is trying to bounce back from Monday’s 102-93 loss at

Orlando, which snapped its four-game winning streak. The

Timberwolves shot 31.9 percent in the final 24 minutes two days

after shooting 40.0 percent in the second half of a 114-106

overtime win against Dallas.

“What happened in the second half is exactly what has been

happening the last few games,” said center Nikola Pekovic, who is

averaging 23.3 points and 9.3 boards in his last four games. “We

have a good first half and then lose our concentration.”

Kevin Love had 23 points and 15 boards after missing Saturday’s

game with the flu, and he’ll hope a 10-of-20 shooting night spells

the end of a terrible stretch from the floor. Love had shot 30.0

percent over his previous seven games.

Love’s poor shooting stretch means little to Heat coach Erik

Spoelstra, who’s concerned with the energy Love brings.

“You can have probably an outstanding game matching his effort

and blocking him out, and he’ll still get 14 rebounds and end up

with four or five offensive rebounds, tips and extra possessions,”

Spoelstra said. “He’s unique. He’s an anomaly at that position.

There’s no way to define how he does it. He’s able to find a way

and it’s remarkable.”

It seems Miami won’t have to deal with Ricky Rubio, who isn’t

expected to play in the second half of a back-to-back as he takes

it slow in his early days back from a torn ACL. The point guard has

eight points and 13 assists in 34 total minutes off the bench in

two games since his return.

Rubio had 12 points and 12 assists in last season’s loss to

Miami.