Justise Winslow’s night didn't exactly get off to a great start.
The first time he got the ball in the post, he launched a pass toward Josh Richardson in the corner that flew over his head and landed in about the fifth row.
“Bad pass by Winslow – maybe a Shaqtin-A-Fool [candidate],” the Heat's honored guest Shaquille O'Neal said on the TNT broadcast.
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The next time down the floor things didn't get any better for Winslow. He threw a pass toward Josh McRoberts and it was intercepted by Luol Deng, who was waiting to pounce on it like a safety reading the eyes of a really bad quarterback.
But the 20-year-old Winslow ended up proving by the end of the Heat’s 115-107 come-from-behind victory over the Lakers it’s really not how you start in the NBA, but how you finish.
In his best game to date in a Heat uniform, the Heat's 2015 first round pick posted a career-high 23 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and four steals and more than made up for his rough start.
“[He was] really playing his game,” James Johnson said of Winslow, who went away from being the guy who stands in the corner launching threes and long jumpers and attacked the basket more often than he usually does.
“He went into this game playing what he thought would work as a role, setting screens, really flying out there, making their three-man work, that four-man work. And when he got that occassional little man, he blitzed him. I want him to keep playing like this and keep playing with this kind of confidence. It’s just going to help us out in the long run.”
Winslow, a career 40.9 shooter in the league, finished 10-of-16 from the field, only the eighth time in his career he’s attempted double-digit shots and made at least half of them.
Winslow, who is shooting 43.6 percent within 10 feet of the basket (he's shooting 30.7 percent outside of that range), only took five of his 16 shots from beyond 10-feet Thursday.
He made three of them including an open 19-footer with 2:46 remaining to extend the Heat’s lead to 107-102.
But the fact Winslow decided to take 11 of his 16 shots (68.8 percent) within 10 feet of the basket (he usually takes 55.6 percent of his shots there) showed his desire to get to an area where he knows he’s more effective. Winslow said afterward he was just taking advantage of switches and attacking the basket when he had smaller defenders on him.
In addition to his good shooting and shot selection, Winslow, who missed 16 games this season with a sore left wrist before returning during the Heat’s six-game homestand, did a lot of other things that made coach Erik Spoelstra happy.
“He’s a multidimensional player,” Spoelstra said. “He really works at it. We have a lot of hard workers in that locker room. Justise Winslow, for a 20-year-old, is as committed as anyone of them if not more.
“He gets here extremely early every single day, stays late working on his game. You see improvement. Even when he was out [injured] he was working on his finishes with his right hand and what you saw was the competitive playmaking that he’s had. Now when you put the ball in his hands, he can make some plays for the team offensively, as well. Extremely physical.”
Is this a performance Winslow can build on?
“Yeah, of course,” Winslow said. “I’ve put in a lot of work this summer and even when I was hurt. I couldn’t shoot long distance, so a lot of it was getting my touch right in the paint. It’s something I definitely want to build off, but this is way bigger than me. It was about all the guys tonight just believing and trusting. We got a little sideways in the beginning, but we trusted our standards and got back to our principles and stuck with it.”
What can this team do with Winslow playing like that? Hassan Whiteside giggled as he answered.
“We need every inch,” Whiteside said. “When he brings that, it really helps us a lot. He’s really dynamic. I feel like this is probably the first game since his injury he was comfortable out there. So, I'm glad that guy is back, getting used to the game.”