NBA Filipino Heritage Week matchup: T-Wolves vs Heat
Miami Heat's Goran Dragic, right, of Slovenia, drives past Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio of Spain during the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Minneapolis. The Heat won 115- 113. Dragic led the Heat with 33 points. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
The Miami Heat picked up a 120-112 win against the New Orleans Pelicans earlier this week, in the first Filipino Heritage Week match-up. They’re set to see action anew on Saturday (PHL time), when they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This is going to be an interesting matchup between two teams still scrapping and clawing to make it to the Playoffs. The 33-35 Heat won for the 22nd time in 27 games, putting them in the East’s ninth seed, tied with the Detroit Pistons. That’s quite a feat, considering how at one point, they had the 29th record out of 30th teams. On the other hand, the 28-39 Timberwolves are 4.5 games back of the Western Conference’s eighth seed, but have been much-improved since the All-Star break, as young guns Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have shown a better grasp of Coach Tom Thibodeau’s system.
I’m amazed with how the Heat have been playing. At one point, they were dealing with multiple injuries to their players, and many thought they were just going to throw in the towel on this season. Instead, they stayed the course with Coach Erik Spoelstra, and have racked up plenty of wins despite not really having a lot of big name guys on their roster to surround Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic.
On the other hand, we’re starting to see the fruits of the Timberwolves’ labor. While it’s tough to see them leap-frog squads like the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail BLazers, and Denver Nuggets, they’ve come a long way from their slow start to the season. In the second half of the elims, Minnesota has a defensive rating of 102.4, meaning they give up 102.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s good for sixth in the rankings, behind only the Spurs, Warriors, Pacers, Heat, and Mavericks, and ahead of squads like the Celtics, Jazz, Raptors, and Hawks.
Here are three key matchups to follow in this game:
1. Hassan Whiteside (MIA) vs. Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)
It’s going to be a battle between force and finesse between these two big guys. While I consider Towns’ game to be a bit awkward, his less-than-orthodox style of play has been very effective. Towns is averaging 24.3 points and 12.3 rebounds, while hitting about 1.2 triples per game. He clearly carries the team’s scoring load, but it’s also good to see that he can make plays for his teammates, behind 2.8 assists an outing.
Whiteside on the other hand has been good for 16.6 points and a league-best 14.3 rebounds. And while he doesn’t have the same passing ability as Towns (0.6 an outing), he is in the top three in blocks per game, norming 2.1, to tie him with Myles Turner of Indiana.
2. Dion Waiters (MIA) vs. Andrew Wiggins (MIN)
For a very short period of time, these two were actually teammates on the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with Kyrie Irving. However, we all know what happened - Wiggins was sent to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love, while Waiters was moved later that season in a three-team trade to bring over Iman Shumpert and JR Smith from the New York Knicks to the Land. Waiters was sent to Oklahoma City in the process, and just this offseason, wound up signing with the Heat.
Just like their teams, the two have shaken off slow starts to really stand out. Waiters has been #2 on Miami in terms of scoring, with 16.5 points per game after the All-Star break, thanks in part to a 41.5 percent three-point shooting clip. Wiggins on the other hand is putting out 21.2 points a night, and though he isn’t waxing hot from beyond the arc anymore, his defensive rating of 100.7 really shows his stopper potential.
3. Goran Dragic (MIA) vs. Ricky Rubio (MIN)
If you wondered if Goran Dragic could carry the Heat by himself following Dwyane Wade moving to Chicago, wonder no more. Dragic is averaging a carer-best 20.4 points on a 48.6 percent clip, with 3.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists. It’s thanks in large part to Dragic’s playmaking that the Heat are where they are now.
On the other hand, after being the subject of trade rumors the entire season, the deadline passed with Rubio still a member of the Timberwolves. And knowing he’s still on the team for at least the end of the current campaign has really given the Spaniard a surge of confidence. Rubio has been sensational as of late, with averages of 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 11.3 assists, and 1.8 steals. He’s even hitting 1.2 triples per outing on a 42.9 percent clip, something that used to be his big weakness.
I can’t wait to watch this exciting battle of youth and explosiveness. Hopefully, we’ll get an exciting game, as a treat for all the fans on Filipino Heritage Week.
Catch the two remaining Filipino Heritage Week games - MIN @ MIA on Saturday at 8am, and MIL @ GSW on Sunday at 10:30am. Check out this week's viewing guide for channel options.