Entering Wednesday’s game against the Rockets, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t expect forward Justise Winslow to play too many minutes.
After all, Winslow missed the previous nine games because of a concussion.
“I’m not expecting him to play big minutes because he has been out three weeks and he hasn’t been doing basketball work except for the last handful of days,” Spoelstra said before the Heat’s game in Houston.
Winslow ended up playing 34 minutes in Wednesday’s 117-108 loss to the Rockets after missing three weeks while in the NBA’s concussion protocol program. The 23-year-old Winslow finished with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, seven rebounds and three assists as a reserve in his first game back while playing in his hometown of Houston.
Winslow played the entire fourth quarter, with Duncan Robinson’s foul trouble and Kendrick Nunn’s bruised sternum leading to more minutes late in the game.
“That’s just ridiculous,” Spoelstra said of giving Winslow 30-plus minutes, with the Heat moving on to host the Warriors on Friday night. “I had no intention of playing him that much. K-Nunn got hit in the chest. He couldn’t play. Duncan got five fouls. So thank goodness we had Justise for those minutes.”
It’s going to take a little bit of time for Winslow to return to form. But he was just happy to be back on the court.
“It felt great. To be honest, I had a lot of fun out there even despite the loss,” Winslow said. “I’ve been playing basketball my whole life, so when it’s taken away, it can be tough. So just being around the guys more the past couple days and getting out there in practice and finally out there in the games.
“Sometimes you take it for granted, but it’s those small things. I feel a lot better. Didn’t get the outcome, but started to find a little bit of rhythm out there.”
Winslow is coming back from his first concussion. Symptoms, including headaches and sensitivity to light and noise, lasted about a week after his collision with forward Paul Millsap in the Heat’s Nov. 5 loss to the Nuggets.
Winslow only returned to practice Tuesday.
“The concussion symptoms are probably the worst thing,” Winslow said. “The headaches, the light, all that. But it’s part of this league, the injuries and all that. Take care of your body, listen to your body. So I knew I wasn’t right. … The (concussion) protocol, I’m glad it’s put into place. Because going through that and rushing through that and trying to get back on the court is not the best thing for your health long term.”
Winslow looked rusty at times Wednesday, but he also looked more comfortable as the game went on. Each of the three shots Winslow made against the Rockets came from inside the paint, as he went 0 of 4 on shots from outside of the paint.
While playing the entire fourth quarter, Winslow recorded six points on 2-of-3 shooting, two rebounds and two assists in the period. The Heat outscored the Rockets 40-26 in the final quarter.
“It takes time, man,” Winslow said. “I practiced one time, so just continue to take it day by day. But I definitely felt a little better in the fourth.”
The Heat’s hope is that Winslow will be even better in his second game back Friday. There’s also the question: When will Winslow return to the Heat’s starting lineup?
Winslow started in each of the first five games he played in this season before the concussion.
“I don’t want to set any expectations, just one day at a time for me,” Winslow said. “But hopefully against Golden State (on Friday), you can see a little bit more of my natural self, handling the ball a little bit more and just the defensive intensity. I was just so happy to be out there. I wouldn’t say I was star struck, but I almost felt like a rookie.
“I was elated to be back on the court. I wanted to do it here (in Houston). I knew it would be a little bit smoother just to do it somewhere I was comfortable in. I’ve been to probably 100 games here in this arena. So there’s no better place I felt like to just make that transition back on the court than here.”
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