As the Heat continues to make changes to its starting backcourt, it has arrived at a new pairing.
Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow.
Waiters and Winslow have been in the Heat’s starting lineup together before during the previous two seasons, but never as backcourt mates. With Waiters making his first start of the season in Friday’s loss to the Kings, it was the first time he started next to Winslow (the point guard).
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“It was great. I have no complaints,” Winslow said of playing next to Waiters, with the Heat moving on to Sunday’s game against the potent Warriors. “The ball was moving. I think other than [Josh Richardson], me and Dion didn’t shoot the ball too well.”
Waiters finished with 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting and two assists, and Winslow finished with five points on 2-of-11 shooting and six assists. The duo also combined for five turnovers.
In the 30 minutes Waiters and Winslow played together Friday, the Heat was outscored by four points. And Miami’s offense didn’t exactly run smoothly, with a 39.3 team shooting percentage to go with 16 assists and 13 turnovers during that time.
But for the season, Miami has outscored opponents by 10 points in 138 minutes with the Waiters-Winslow combination on the court.
“You pretty much just figure it out,” Waiters said of learning how to play with Winslow, the point guard. “He’s aggressive. He’s still learning how to play the position a little bit. But he’ll be fine. He does a great job of pushing the ball, tempo and things like that. It’s all about playing off him, just figure out his tendencies and mine, J-Rich and things like that and getting acclimated with each other.”
The biggest challenge the Waiters-Winslow pairing faces is they both seem to be more effective with the ball in their hands.
Waiters has made just 31.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities this season. And while Winslow has hit a respectable 40.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances, he’s played the best basketball of his career over the last two months in a ball-dominant role as he’s taken over at point guard for the injured Goran Dragic.
“I think the thing that we’re going to hopefully figure out is how to get him the ball off actions,” Winslow said of Waiters. “So it won’t be as much dribbling, a lot of pindowns, coming off of floppys, down screens, that sort of thing, where it’s just not him pounding the life of the ball — which he’s great at. Yeah, just trying to get him some easy opportunities where he can be that natural scorer and I’m going to be that guy to try to get guys into their comfort zone.”
But Waiters wants to play the role of creator, too.
“The way Justise is transforming at the one, you got to communicate things he likes to do off the ball because I like to have the ball also,” Waiters said. “So he’s working on his jump shot, his jump shot has improved a whole lot. I’m going to be the guy that’s going to get in the paint and then that opens it up because he’s hitting that shot. They still might help off and they might make him shoot it, and he’s got to have confidence that he knows he’s going to make the shot. Just be ready to shoot the ball.”
Figuring out who is going to play the role of initiator during each half-court set is the challenge. It’s not impossible to solve, though, as Dragic and Waiters displayed during their first season together in 2016-17.
The Heat outscored opponents by 42 points with Dragic and Waiters on the court that season. In the end, that could be Miami’s starting backcourt again when Dragic returns from knee surgery at some point after the All-Star break.
Until then, Waiters and Winslow will have to figure out how to play together.
“I didn’t really get a chance to play with Justise yet,” Waiters said Friday just hours before starting next to Winslow. “I’ve played with him in spurts and things like that. We had games where we played, but it’s a little different. I’m comfortable with Goran. I know what he likes to do, he knows what I like to do. He makes it easy on me and I make it easy for him.”
▪ Heat guard Dwyane Wade is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Warriors after taking a hard fall during Friday’s loss to the Kings.
Wade was able to return to the game in Sacramento following the fall after passing the concussion protocol. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting, four rebounds and four assists.
“I’m a little sore, but I know it’s about 48 hours,” Wade said after the team’s Saturday practice in San Francisco. “So continue to do all the things I need to do today, and tomorrow is the day the team is probably more concerned with. So we’ll see how it feels. But I felt a lot better this morning when I woke up than I thought I would. My goal is to play, but obviously I’ll wait to see tomorrow how my body feels.”