Winslow's on-the-job training continues vs. Nuggets
The Miami Heat have a two-time NBA champion coach in Erik Spoelstra, but they have a point guard who had never played the position until a month ago.
"He has to organize us," Spoelstra recently told the media of Justise Winslow, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound 22-year-old who was drafted in the first round as a forward but has been converted to point guard following Goran Dragic's knee surgery.
"(Winslow) has to get guys involved," Spoelstra continued. "He has to pick his spots when to be aggressive, and that changes from game to game."
Spoelstra sees Winslow emerging as a double-double machine, but that didn't happen Sunday when he was held to 13 points, five rebounds and three assists in an embarrassing 106-82 loss at the lowly Atlanta Hawks.
On Tuesday, the Heat (19-19) return home to face the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets (26-12). But they get a Nuggets team that saw its five-game win streak snapped on Monday night in a 125-113 loss to the Houston Rockets.
Nikola "Joker" Jokic led Denver on Monday in points (24) and rebounds (13), proving once again that he's no joke.
Jokic is a pick-and-roll machine and leads Denver in points (18.8), rebounds (10.0), assists (7.5) and steals (1.5). Jokic is hitting 83.6 percent of his free throws, 56.2 percent of his two-pointers and 31.8 percent on 3-pointers.
In essence, Jokic, 23, has morphed into a 7-foot Serbian point-center in his fourth season. In fact, he had 10 triple-doubles last season, fourth in the league.
"For us to be the team we want to be, (Jokic) has to be a big part of that," Nuggets coach Michael Malone recently told reporters. "He has to be aggressive."
The Nuggets missed making the playoffs by one game in each of the past two seasons, but this young roster is starting to mature. Point guard Jamal Murray (21 years old) is second in the team in scoring at 18.5 points per game; Gary Harris is (24) is fourth at 16.1.
Nuggets veterans to watch this season have included forward Paul Millsap, 33, and guard Will Barton, 28 -- although the latter will miss Tuesday's game due to a hip injury. Barton is third on the team in scoring (16.5), and Millsap is averaging 13.4 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Miami's starting backcourt of Winslow and Josh Richardson should provide for an interesting matchup against Murray and Harris. Winslow is three inches taller than Murray. Richardson, who leads the Heat in scoring (18.3), is two inches taller than Harris.
At center, Miami's Hassan Whiteside, who has an old-school, in-the-paint game, may struggle defending the versatile Jokic, although the reverse may also be true.
In terms of rest, Miami will have the advantage with that extra day off and Denver completing a back-to-back.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 8, 2019