Miami Heat closing in on .500 with win over Minnesota Timberwolves

By Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange   |   March 18, 2017 at 2:37 AM

MIAMI -- Heat center Hassan Whiteside said he and his teammates have a saying: "Go from good to great."

Whiteside was talking about passing up a good shot for a better one, but he might as well have been talking about Miami's season now that expectations are rising to nose-bleed levels.

On Friday night, Miami, which started the season 11-30, continued its amazing turnaround, drawing to within one game of .500 with a 123-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at AmercianAirlines Arena.

Miami (34-35), which is 23-5 in its past 28 games, was led by reserve guard Tyler Johnson, who had 23 points, and Whiteside, who had 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.

Johnson, who made 9-of-13 shots, was aggressive all night, scoring on three layups, two dunks and one tip-in while also hitting on 2-of-5 from three-point territory and 3-of-3 from the foul line. He made one mid-range jumper, too.

Whiteside was also active, especially on defense.

"It felt like (Whiteside) had seven or eight blocks," Spoelstra said. "And that's the most important thing -- that they feel his size, that they feel his presence, that they feel his impact at the rim and in the paint."

Heat point guard Goran Dragic had 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 10 assists, and Miami shot a season-best 58.8 percent from the floor.

The Heat win was marred by an injury to Dion Waiters' left ankle. Waiters, Miami's starting shooting guard, left the game with 3:24 left in the second quarter and did not return, although the Heat said X-rays were negative.

"It's unfortunate," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Waiters' injury. "You feel the crowd (react to Waiters' going down), and that's how we felt, too."

Waiters got hurt while driving to the rim and landing on the foot of a Minnesota defender. Waiters had six points on 3-for-3 shooting at the time of his departure.

For the season, Waiters is Miami's third-leading scorer. He is averaging 16.1 points, 4.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 46 games.

"We lost Dion -- we lost a key piece," said Whiteside, who played with a painful shoulder injury that he said he will get checked out on Saturday. "But we couldn't feel sorry for ourselves."

Minnesota (28-40) fell to 10-22 on the road this season. The Timberwolves were led by Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 31 points and 11 rebounds. Andrew Wiggins added 26 points, and point guard Ricky Rubio contributed 20 points and six assists.

Wiggins had a hot start, scoring 13 points in the first quarter on 6-for-9 shooting, including a 3-pointer. Still, the Heat, with balanced scoring, shot 54.5 percent in the first quarter and had a 27-23 lead at the buzzer.

Miami closed the second quarter on a 10-2 run and took a 64-49 lead into halftime. Miami shot a blistering 64.3 percent in the first half.

With Waiters gone, Johnson took over in the third quarter with 15 points, making it his highest-scoring period of the season. He made all six of his shots in the quarter, including a dunk in traffic and a soaring tip-in.

But as good as Johnson was in the third, Minnesota cut into its deficit thanks to 12 points from Wiggins. Miami headed into the fourth quarter with a 90-81 lead.

"We looked like we were closing the gap," Towns said. "But then they hit some tough shots. I mean, Tyler Johnson hit a turnaround three."

Minnesota cut Miami's lead to just six points on a Rubio jumper with 8:14 left in the fourth quarter. But a Miami 11-0 put the game away for the Heat.

"We didn't get the stops we needed to -- when a team shots 60 percent that's not good," Wiggins said. "There was a point where they turned on the switch, and we didn't."

The win left the Heat in playoff position with 13 games to go in -- not that Spoelstra wanted to hear questions about anything beyond this one game.

"Don't bait me," Spoelstra said with a half-smile. "No. We have a long way to go. We do not have time to relax."

Johnson, also asked about the playoffs, was virtually in lockstep with his coach.

"We check the standings," he admitted. "It's a good feeling to see your name up there. But we know we've got so much more work to do -- we think we can climb higher than the eighth spot."

NOTES: Heat C Hassan Whiteside produced his 11th straight double-double, which tied Rony Seikaly's franchise record set in 1992. ... Miami's five-game homestand reaches its midway point on Sunday when the Portland Trail Blazers visit. ... Two Timberwolves reserves -- SG Lance Stephenson and F Nemanja Bjelica -- sat out after leaving Wednesday's game due to left-ankle injuries. Bjelica, who has played 65 games this season, averaging 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds, has been shut down for the rest of the year. ... The Timberwolves, who are likely to miss the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season, will play at the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

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