April 04, 2014

The Miami Heat are winning, playing strong defense and are set to welcome back a star and a rotation player after unexpected absences.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are losing, playing poor defense and could still be missing their starting point guard, so a visit to Miami on Tuesday night might be coming with low expectations as the teams meet for the second time in two weeks.

After Thursday's 92-91 home win over Utah, the Heat (6-3) are on the verge of their first four-game winning streak since March 28-April 2, 2014.

The latest victory came with Dwyane Wade sidelined after his son was hospitalized because of an undisclosed illness, and Gerald Green has missed six games because of an undisclosed personal incident. Both returned to practice over the weekend.

Green was suspended for the last two over what the Heat described as conduct detrimental to the team. There's no word yet on how much he'll play Tuesday, but he averaged 10.3 points and 21.7 minutes in the three games he's played with his new team.

"Gerald is an integral part of what we're trying to do," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We'll work him back in at a healthy rate. What that'll be on Tuesday, I don't know right now."

There have been other backcourt changes that could have an effect in that regard. Miami traded Mario Chalmers to Memphis last Tuesday, leading Tyler Johnson's minutes to increase in the last two games.

Johnson was 8 of 12 for 17 points Thursday, though his teammates were impressed long before that and the organization seems dedicated to getting him on the court.

"Tyler is awesome," said Chris Bosh, who scored 25 and is averaging 26.0 while shooting 54.2 percent on the winning streak. "He can play. He's had a great camp, he comes in and he works hard every day, works on his weaknesses, goes out there and lays it on the line and competes. He's literally started from the bottom and worked his way up into playing a very huge role for this team."

Through it all, the Heat have maintained an impressive defensive effort. Dating to a 96-84 win at Minnesota on Nov. 5, they've held their last five opponents to 85.8 points per game and 40.3 percent shooting.

They've also won nine of their last 11 against the Timberwolves (4-6), who have been unable to stop anybody while giving up 113.5 points and a 51.5 field-goal percentage on a four-game losing streak.

Sunday's 114-106 home loss to Memphis was possibly the worst its been with the Grizzlies shooting 56.3 percent and hitting 9 of 17 from 3-point range.

"We got to worry about our defense," said interim head coach Sam Mitchell, whose team is out to improve on a 4-1 road record. "We rebounded enough. We had turnovers, bad turnovers at the wrong time of the game, but overall we didn't turn the ball over a lot.

"We just got to play better defense."

Ricky Rubio has missed all four losses with a hamstring injury after averaging 13.0 points and 9.0 assists over the team's 4-2 start. He practiced Monday but is questionable to return against the Heat.

Zach LaVine has started all four games and been impressive in the last two, averaging 25.5 points and hitting 8 of 14 from 3-point range.

Andrew Wiggins has also been solid in the last two with an average of 23.5 points on 54.5 percent shooting, but the team's top scorer was 5 of 18 against the Heat.

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