Three keys to the game: Minnesota Timberwolves @ Miami Heat

USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves travel south to take on the Heat in Miami. Let's break down some keys to the game!

1. Keep up the defense

The Heat have held opponents under 85 points in their last 5 games, their longest such streak of the season. This defensive spike has not gone unnoticed by fans nor by Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, who spoke about the team "sharpening [their] swords."

It is clear to see that the Heat have improved when it comes to defensive rotations and rebounding, which we'll get back to later. The Heat, with most credit belonging to Chris "Birdman" Andersen, have averaged 5.6 blocks over their past 5 games.

While some of the defensive success can be attributed to the quality of competition (or lack thereof), the return of Udonis Haslem to the regular rotation has done wonders for the Heat. With Chris Bosh likely matched up with Wolves premier power forward Kevin Love who, like Bosh, has the ability to stretch the floor and knock down 3's with regularity, Haslem will be left with the challenge of guarding emerging rookie Gorgui Dieng. Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Toney Douglas will also have their hands full on both ends of the court with Ricky Rubio, Minnesota's flashy point guard. Rubio spearheads the league's 5th best team in moving the ball, averaging 23.8 assists per game.

2. Hold your own, but play your game

The Timberwolves average 44.9 rebounds per game, which is good for 8th in the league. The Heat? Not so much. Miami is all the way at the bottom of that list, 30th in rebounding, at a mere 37 per game. The Heat have never been known as a great rebounding squad, ever since LeBron and Bosh headed south in the summer of 2010. This combined with a general lack of size is the reason the Pacers, when playing to their potential, are such a great matchup for the Heat.

Miami has always found ways to get around their ineptitude for rebounding, usually finding solace in their high-powered offense and active defense. We can point to a certain Tuesday night tilt during the 2012-13 season against these same Timberwolves. The Heat were outrebounded 53-24. That's not a typo. The Heat were more than doubled up in the rebounding column and still won by 11. Heat President Pat Riley is famously quoted as saying "no rebounds, no rings" but that's not the way this team rolls.

3. Maintain consistency while resting players

With the playoffs right around the corner, a short two weeks away, playoff-bound teams are beginning to gear up for the "second season." This includes decreasing minutes, giving bench players some time to prove their worth, and resting starters.

The Heat are no exception, going without Dwyane Wade, Greg Oden, and Ray Allen during the recent 4-game winning stretch. Expect Ray Allen to be back Friday, returning from a pretty serious stomach bug. The "next man up" mentality allows the Heat to plug in players who are eagerly awaiting their chance at playing time. This includes the increased playing time of James Jones who has proved to fit the "Mike Miller" role. He seems to be one of those guys Spo can trot out after a moth or more of dormancy and hit two or three 3-pointers.

Toney Douglas has also been inserted into the starting lineup, with the absence of Wade. Douglas has proved to be a bit of a bulldog on the court, as Spoelstra would probably say. He plays with high energy and goes for every loose ball and rebound.

Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, they will once again be headed home in mid-April, not quite making the cut in a cut-throat Western Conference. That won't stop them from holding out center Nikola Pekovic who had been suffering from an ankle injury. He is likely shut down for the season.

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