If the Heat is looking for small victories in a playoff series that has left Miami on the brink of elimination, here’s one: Justise Winslow has continued his evolution into a reliable rotation piece who's no longer a liability on offense.
Winslow leads the Heat in rebounds in this series with 26 in four games, while blocking four shots and averaging 9.3 points. He’s shooting 38.5 percent on three-pointers (5 for 13) after converting 38 percent during the regular season – much better than his 27.6 percent and 20.0 percent conversion rates his first two NBA seasons.
He also has significantly improved his ability to finish at the rim; several times in this series, he has dribbled aggressively downcourt, past Sixers defenders, for layups in transition.
"Justise is doing whatever it takes,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “This is the moment you want Justise to do well on your team, this is the moment you want him. He's a guy that has no ego. He’s going to play his heart out.”
Winslow said the 76ers, who left him mostly unguarded on three-pointers during the first three games of the series, “guarded me a little more [in Game 4] but they're still sagging, not going down early. I've got all the confidence in the world. My teammates have confidence in me.”
Asked why the 76ers haven’t tightly defended him on the perimeter, Sixers coach Brett Brown said: “You have to select with a bunch of information the proper game plan and feel comfortable what swords are you going to fall on. If you have to give up something, what are you going to give up? We don't care what Justise [did], that's not it all. You look at what he did, bam, bam, makes threes, when is enough enough? I don't know; it's a gut feel. That's part of strategizing. The justise situation is handled with all those things in mind.”
Winslow said being ignored on the perimeter doesn’t offend him or “make a difference. If I'm open, I let it fly within the flow of the offense.”
Winslow, who’s averaging 24.5 minutes per game in this series (fifth-most on the team) said “it feels good, seeing the [personal] progress… It feels good to know where I've come from, especially from the start of the season to now.”
▪ Heat center Bam Adebayo has played 60 minutes in the series said he will benefit longterm from his exposure to the playoffs.
“I didn't know what to expect going into a playoffs,” he said. He said playoff intensity is “a lot” different from regular season intensity.
“You can't get any reps wrong,” he said. “You've got to get it right the first time.”
Adebayo has 13 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks in his 60 minutes and has had some good defensive moments against Sixers center Joel Embiid. “You only get one rookie year,” he said. “I'm enjoying it as I go. I've got to keep progressing and get better.”
Though the 76ers have the edge in talent, the growth of Winslow, Adebayo and Josh Richardson offers some reason for encouragement.
▪ Though he continues to start, Tyler Johnson has become almost an afterthought in this series, his 62 total minutes ninth on the team. His 12:54 in Game 4 were his second fewest in a game all season.
Johnson’s bandaged left thumb might be an issue, but his minutes were down even before that Game 3 injury.
▪ Before Hassan Whiteside came on strong in the second half of Game 4, TNT’s Kenny Smith at halftime accused Whiteside of giving up on a play, with video evidence seeming to support that.
“It makes me mad watching this kid play,” TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal said.
▪ Players guarded by Embiid are shooting 29 percent in this series, compared with 46.7 percent against Whiteisde. During the regular season, players defended by Embiid shot 40.9 percent, compared with 47 percent against Whiteside.
“It’s funny, before I started playing here and after I signed, Brett told me there are certain sequences in a game where Joel will say, ‘No, you are not scoring at the rim,’” Sixers guard J.J. Redick said. “It’s like a switch goes off and he’s everywhere. I don’t know how he covers as much ground as he does and he has great timing. He knows for the most part when not to jump on shots. It’s incredible.”
▪ On Dwyane Wade saying after Game 3 that Justin Anderson "came into the game to be a tough guy,” Brown said: “Justin was brought in certainly to provide a level of physicality, but he is a great player. He can shoot threes. He does a lot of things that can help us win."
▪ With the Heat being outrebounded by 32 in the series, Whiteside said the Heat must pay more attention to simply tracking the ball. “Basic rebounding principles — when it's on the other side 75 to 85 percent it goes to the other side of the rim,” he said. “That's normally what I do. I just track the ball.”