After spending the first seven weeks of the season battling countless injuries and playing short-handed, the Miami Heat was looking toward its season-long, six-game homestand as an opportunity to get healthy and get back on track.
The way it ended Thursday night was at least encouraging — with Justise Winslow, who missed 16 games because of a sore left wrist, guiding the Heat to a 115-107 come-from-behind victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Miami (10-20) trailed by 19 points in the first half but rallied to put an end to a three-game losing streak on a night the franchise honored 44-year-old Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, retiring his No. 32 jersey and raising it to the rafters at halftime.
“Even after the disappointing double-overtime loss [Tuesday to the Magic], nobody was hanging their heads,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“They love the competition and were disappointed that we weren’t able to pull it out [Tuesday], but they learned from it and came back. It was great to see a very similar situation, up six, but having to close the game. We did it differently, obviously, than we did the other night. Great energy in the second half.”
Spoelstra said he thought Shaq’s jersey retirement provided a boost of energy.
Hassan Whiteside, who finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds and one block, agreed. So did team captain Udonis Haslem, who lit into his teammates after the Heat fell behind 11-0 to start the game, urging them to play for each other.
“The Big Fella spoke, and I think some of that enegy was transferred over to the team,” said Haslem, who was called over by O’Neal during his halftime speech to be acknowledged by the crowd for his 14 years of service to the organization.
“You can’t help but be excited to play on a stage like this on a night like this.”
Said Whiteside: “It definitely motivated me a lot. I want to be one of them guys to have my number raised up in the rafters.”
Goran Dragic had 21 points and seven assists, and James Johnson and Tyler Johnson, the Heat’s two primary weapons off the bench, combined for 33 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists.
“I think what really inspired us was when the Big Fella brought out UD,” James Johnson said. “That man is still a part of this, of what we’ve got going on. For him to get that kind of acknowledgement, I don’t think we wanted to lose that for him.”
But it was Winslow, Miami’s youngest player at 20 years old, who shined brightest for the Heat.
He scored a career-high 23 points, dished out three assists, grabbed 13 rebounds and had four steals in his best performance since the Heat drafted him with the 10th overall pick in 2015.
Shooting just 35.2 percent for the season, Winslow made 10 of his 16 shots and scored 15 points in the second half. He said he just took advantage of mismatches.
“Coming in, we knew that they liked to switch a lot,” Winslow said. “We tried to really make them switch. A lof times I had a guard or smaller guy on me. We just took advantage of that.”
Down 76-66 with 6:50 to go in the third quarter after back-to-back three-pointers by Nick Young, Miami closed the quarter on a 16-4 run and finally took the lead on a Winslow runner with 1:02 to go in the quarter.
Lou Williams, the league’s leading scorer off the bench, led Los Angeles (11-21) with 27 points.
“Hassan Whiteside went five for six from the free-throw line,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We told our guys, ‘anytime he gets around the rim, if he has us beat, he’s a 50 percent free-throw shooter, wrap him up.’ I don’t think we wrapped him up one time. We touch-fouled him a couple times.”
The Heat, which wrapped up its homestand at 3-3, plays at New Orleans on Friday night.
“Let’s get some more wins, man,” Whiteside said. “Guys are more healthy. That starting five is getting more accustomed to each other. The bench is getting more acclimated to the game. We’re 30 games in. We’ve got 52 more.”