This is what Pat Riley’s father told him, way back when: Plant your feet. Stand firm. Make a point about who you are. And what you believe in.
Justise Winslow has surely never seen that quote, and won’t unless the Heat president makes The Winner Within required reading for his prized rookies. But it sure looked, in the second quarter of Wednesday’s season-opening 104-94 win against the Charlotte Hornets, in the second quarter of his official NBA debut, like the precocious teen already has a handle on all four principles.
Winslow planted his right foot on the edge of the red paint after rushing past Jeremy Lin. He stood firm, albeit while suspended in air, as he soared past Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller. He made a point about who he is, while making two points for Miami, with a vicious slam. He showed what he believed in as he spun and screamed: himself.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Winslow said. “I was just ready for the moment.”
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The slam was spectacular, but the emotion was even more stunning in light of the stoicism that we’ve seen so far. We certainly haven’t seen that.
“No, none of us have,” Dwyane Wade said with a smile later. “He made all of us scream.”
The Heat made their fans scream again in a good way, scream with throats full of hope, after a lost season that ended too soon, even after dragging on too long.
“It’s been a while, huh?” Chris Bosh quipped to the crowd when addressing them.
Yes, it had been. A while since they played at all. But even longer since they could play this way.
While no one expected a roar to rush out of Winslow, it seemed like a significant, stirring play could come from any number of them. Maybe it would have taken another, less electric form. Maybe a feathery Chris Bosh jumper. Maybe a Wade weave into the lane. Maybe a Goran Dragic dash in transition. Or perhaps even a fancy Josh McRoberts dish, or a furious Gerald Green flurry. Or maybe, as occurred when most needed Wednesday, it could even be a Luol Deng dagger from deep.
“We have that,” Wade said of the options.
And that variety, that unpredictability is what’s different about this Heat squad, different than so many of the 16 that have made the playoffs in Riley’s 20-year tenure with the organization, different for sure than the three that have taken NBA titles. It doesn’t seem especially likely that you’ll ever be pining for some Heat starter to storm back off the bench to save them. LeBron James is long gone. And while Bosh and Wade are still around and vibrant enough to lead the Heat with 21 and 20 points, respectively, they did so in just 32 and 29 minutes, and there were long stretches when neither was present, and not desperately missed.
No one played more than Bosh’s 32 minutes.
Ten players played at least 10 minutes.
It was Spurs-ian.
“Guys were playing to the point of fatigue,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Come out, the next wave would come in.”
And that next wave, on this night, didn’t even include Amar’e Stoudemire, on a preventative maintenance program, or long-time mainstay Chris Andersen, each of whom may see meaningful action soon, as might Tyler Johnson, and even Josh Richardson or James Ennis. Heck, the first wave hardly included consensus X-factor Hassan Whiteside, who got off to a horrid start against Al Jefferson and then sat for more than 15 minutes of the first half.
But there was still enough, from aplenty.
There’s been some question about what would be the Heat’s identity. While Miami made 12 of 20 three-pointers Wednesday, it won’t run-and-gun with Golden State. While the Heat has a number of useful front-court players, it won’t be able to mash with Memphis.
But maybe this is it.
“Hope so,” Dragic said. “That’s gonna be crucial, especially at the end of the season and playoffs.”
To be fresh.
“It’s gonna make the game a lot easier,” Wade said. “Don’t be selfish. When you’re tired, come out.”
No one was fresher Wednesday than the fresh-faced kid from Duke, the one who’s already made Spoelstra swoon with the way he sees the floor, the way he controls pace and mostly the way he locks down, all of which he demonstrated with a team-best plus-26 in 26 minutes.
He also showed out by showing he can throw down.
“I haven’t jumped that high in a while,” Winslow said. “I forgot I could jump that high.”
Planting his feet. Standing firm. Showing who he is.
“That’s a good way to introduce yourself in the NBA,” Wade said.
Wednesday, the Heat introduced themselves together, as a team their fans can believe in.