The Miami Heat, who have slipped to ninth place — a half-game out of the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference — will play an important road game on Friday night at the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Miami lost at home on Wednesday, 112-102, to the Boston Celtics. The Heat were led by Dion Waiters (21 points), Hassan Whiteside (18 points, 15 rebounds) and Dwyane Wade (17 points).
“It was a playoffs kind of game,” Wade said.
The Heat got some mixed news on injuries. Point guard Justise Winslow (thigh) and wing Rodney McGruder (knee) returned after missing nine and eight games, respectively. Winslow scored four points, and McGruder went scoreless in 33 combined minutes.
But starting guard Josh Richardson played just 16 minutes, bothered by left hip and groin strains. He could be out for two weeks, according to published reports, which could make it a season-ending injury.
Minnesota (35-43) has been eliminated from playoff contention in the Western Conference. In fact, the Timberwolves have failed to make the playoffs in 13 of the past 14 years and haven’t won a postseason series since 2004.
Still, the Timberwolves are 24-14 at home this season, and they have the ability to truly hurt Miami’s playoff hopes.
Minnesota defeated host Miami 113-104 on Dec. 30 in the only previous meeting between the teams this season. Minnesota 7-foot center Karl-Anthony Towns had a monster game with 34 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks.
“His stat line was very impressive,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after that game. “Every time we got close, he had a big bucket or a rebound or something to keep their momentum.”
Recently, though, Towns had been misfiring, shooting just 35 percent over a four-game stretch. But he had 28 points and 13 rebounds on 12-for-15 shooting on Wednesday as the Timberwolves defeated the host Dallas Mavericks 110-108.
“I had been on a rough stretch to say the least,” Towns said. “My dad always taught me to be the guy. So when the game is on the line, you’ve got to make the shot — no matter how bad you’ve been shooting.
“It’s good to gain some confidence from (Wednesday’s) game.”
The Timberwolves, who have just four games left in their season, figure to rely on Towns and Andrew Wiggins against Miami.
Towns is averaging 24.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, and he leads Minnesota in all three categories. The first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and the 2015 Rookie of the Year, Towns is just 23 years old but is already a two-time All-Star.
Wiggins, a fifth-year pro, is averaging 17.9 points, but his effective field goal percentage — which includes the added value of 3-pointers — is just .452, on pace to be the worst mark of his career. Wiggins has been unable to live up to his 2016-2017 season, when he averaged a career-best 23.6 points with a .484 effective field goal percentage.
As a team, Minnesota’s best month this season came in January at 8-6. Since then, however, the Timberwolves have gone 10-17.
The Heat, who are 20-18 on the road this season, had their best month in March, going 11-4. But they are off to a 0-2 start in this crucial month of April.
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