Towns, Timberwolves provide tough task for Heat
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MIAMI -- After the Heat took consecutive losses to the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics, the Miami players met on Sunday to assess their 2-3 start.
A lack of physical play and effort were among issues raised by the players, according to a report in The Miami Herald.
"A lot of people took heat," Miami co-captain James Johnson said, presumably no pun intended. "(The team meeting) was the most important thing we could do -- staring guys in the eyes, telling them the truth. That's what this culture is about."
On Monday night, the Heat will play host to the Minnesota Timberwolves (3-3), who are led by Karl-Anthony Towns, a 21-year-old rising star.
Towns, a 7-foot center who is in his third year in the league, is durable -- he has yet to miss an NBA game. And he is no doubt talented.
He is averaging 24.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks this season. Miami may struggle to defend him without 7-foot center Hassan Whiteside, who has a knee injury and is set to miss his sixth straight game on Monday. Whiteside led the NBA in blocked shots in 2015-16, then led the league in rebounds in 2016-17.
Towns had 33 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks in a 119-116 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.
"He was terrific," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "The activity, the shot-blocking -- he really played hard. He made a lot of great plays for the team."
If Whiteside is out, the Heat will look toward Kelly Olynyk and possibly rookie Bam Adebayo to defend Towns. Johnson, who is 6-9 and 250 pounds, could check Towns when the Heat go small.
And while the Heat brought back virtually their entire roster from last season's near-playoff team that finished 30-11 in its final 41 games, Minnesota made a major draft-night trade, acquiring 28-year-old veteran Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls.
Butler gives the Timberwolves an impressive trio of options on the wings, a group that also includes Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Crawford.
Wiggins, Minnesota's second-leading scorer, is a 6-8 shooting guard who is averaging 19.3 points. The first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Wiggins is only 22 and has a universe of potential.
Crawford is on the other end of the spectrum. He is 37 and just the second NBA player in the past 35 years to accumulate more than 10,000 points off the bench.
Butler fits in well because he is the type of all-out defender that Thibodeau loves, and new Wolves point guard Jeff Teague is working toward that goal.
Teague, who signed a three-year, $57 million free-agent contract with Minnesota in the offseason, is averaging 12.8 points and a team-high 7.0 assists. However, he could have trouble on Monday with Heat guard Goran Dragic, who is averaging 20.2 points and 4.0 assists.
The other key Wolves player to watch on Monday is Taj Gibson, a 6-9 power forward who -- like Butler -- played for "Coach Thibs" in Chicago.
Minnesota hasn't made the playoffs since 2004, but perhaps this is the core group to take the team there.
Miami, meanwhile, is trying to avoid another slow start. The Heat began last season in brutal fashion (11-30), and they don't want a repeat.
The Heat are deeper than Minnesota, and Monday could be a test of styles.
Miami ranks 12th in the NBA with 10.4 3-pointers per game, and Minnesota makes just 8.5 3-pointers, which ranks 24th in the league. And in terms of attempts, the difference in style is even more stark: Miami is eighth, and Minnesota is 28th.
Updated October 29, 2017