After a week on the road, after an overnight flight, the Miami Heat found themselves Monday night where they seemingly have stood all season — in a tight game destined to go to the wire.
This, though, was different, this was the Heat trying to avoid their first 0-4 trip in the Erik Spoelstra era, the first 0-4 trip since the Heat were tanking for Derrick Rose (but got Michael Beasley) in 2008.
The constant, as it was throughout the trip, was a decidedly shorthanded roster, this time without Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson, among others.
And there it stood, tie game, midway through the fourth quarter.
And then there it stood at the end, another close loss, this time 105-101 to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.
So make it a 7-11 record and a seven-game road losing streak.
“It’s just a shame we weren’t able to make enough plays,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry tried to keep the shorthanded afloat, Adebayo with 17 points and 14 rebounds, Lowry with 21 points and nine assists. The Heat also got 19 points from Max Strus, albeit on 7-of-23 shooting.
“We’ve got to stay positive, somehow, some way,” Lowry said.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for the Timberwolves, with Anthony Edwards adding 22 points for Minnesota.
“We will get better,” Spoelstra said. “I promise Heat Nation that.”
Five Degrees of Heat from Monday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 33-30 at the end of the first quarter, went up 15 in the second and took a 60-47 lead into halftime.
But with a 27-5 run in the third quarter, the Timberwolves moved to an 80-72 lead before the Heat ended the period within 84-79.
With Strus converting a 3-pointer, the Heat moved back ahead 89-87 early in the fourth.
Later, after an Anthony Edwards 3-pointer, it was 99-95 Timberwolves with 5:36 to play, but an Adebayo jumper with 3:31 then tied it 99-99.
Staying with their zone defense, the Heat then gave up a D’Angelo Russell jumper to fall behind 101-99 with 2:28 to go,
With 1:37 to play, Towns then fouled out on a charge, only for Lowry turnover giving the ball back to Minnesota with 1:23 left.
And then, with 1:11 left, Rudy Gobert, scoreless to that point, converted a pair of free throws for a 103-99 Minnesota edge.
Lowry then converted a driving layup to make it 103-101 with 29 seconds left.
Gobert then got back to the line, making both free throws to effectively put it away.
That sequence with Gobert that made it a four-point game was particularly perplexing because the Timberwolves only had seconds left on the shot clock.
Spoelstra said he did not tell his player to foul, it was a decision Strus made on his own.
“Historically, he’s not a great free-throw shooter,” Strus said of Gobert. “So we had a chance to put him at the line.”
2. Adebayo-Jovic 2.0: Adebayo and rookie big man Nikola Jovic started together for the second consecutive game, after the pairing made its starting debut Sunday in Cleveland.
Jovic opened defensively against Rudy Gobert, before the Heat went to their zone. The score was tied 22-22 when Jovic went to the bench for the first time.
It was the second consecutive dynamic opening for Adebayo, who made his first three shots for a quick early 10 points. But, as was the case a night earlier in Cleveland, he tapered off from there.
Jovic, meanwhile, showed his ballhandling skills, often using a bust-out dribble after rebounds to advance the ball.
But Jovic still has yet to earn late-game trust from Spoelstra, with Jamal Cain closing in his place.
“Niko again played good minutes in his role,” Spoelstra said.
3. All or nothing: Like his recent run of all-or-nothing games, Strus had a nothing-then-all start from the 3-point line, missing his first four attempts and then making his next three. Two of those three conversions came off transition assists from Jovic. He then missed his next five 3-pointers to drop to 3 of 12 from beyond the arc.
“I’ve got to do a better job of that,” Strus said.
With his third 3-pointer, Strus passed James Jones for 17th on the Heat’s all-time list.
While the struggles continued, Strus, to his credit, continued to fire, with the Heat lacking much else in terms of shooting.
“I love to see guys step up and continue to play your games,” Spoelstra said of Strus’ shooting.
4. Off to races (briefly): The Heat have been stressing a running game all seasons but rarely have been able to succeed at speed.
This time, there were 17 fastbreak points at halftime, to just two for the Timberwolves.
The Heat entered the night with a single-game high of 29 fastbreak points, in their road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
But then things slowed again, with only one transition point in the third quarter.
Sustaining the running game remains an issue, although fatigue at the end of a four-game trip and the second night of a back-to-back obviously was a factor.
“The fourth quarter, the guys’ legs were probably a little dead from this trip,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat closed with just five fastbreak points in the second half.
5. Nine-man weave: The Heat were down to nine available players, eight below the league limit.
Butler missed his third consecutive game due to knee soreness, with Herro missing his eighth consecutive game with a sprained left ankle. Both have been taking treatment in Miami.
Robinson then was added to those unavailable after spraining his left ankle in the closing minutes Sunday in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Vincent missed his third consecutive game with a swollen left knee.
Out for the entire trip were Victor Oladipo, Omer Yurtseven and Udonis Haslem.
Oladipo was the lone player of those three who traveled, as he deals with knee pain. Yurtseven underwent ankle surgery the day before the trip started last Tuesday, while Haslem has been away due personal reasons.
Adebayo (knee) and backup center Dewayne Dedmon (foot) had been on the injured list earlier in the day, but we declared good to go about 90 minutes prior to tipoff.