A tall order: Heat forward Justise Winslow shuts down Timberwolves’ 7-foot Karl-Anthony Towns

Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns shoots in front of Miami’s Justise Winslow during the Heat’s road win Friday. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

CHICAGO – While Justise Winslow’s outside shooting continues to be a work in progress, the third-year forward out of Duke has settled into the starting lineup because of his all-around game and versatility.

That ability to play – and guard – multiple positions was on display Friday in Minnesota.

The 6-foot-7 Winslow learned just before Miami’s 109-97 victory that he would be guarding Timberwolves’ 7-foot multi-skilled Karl-Anthony Towns. Checking big men is not unusual for a player who has settled into the starting lineup at power forward.

But a center. That is not usual.

“He’ll battle,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s not the first time Justise has played a bigger player. At least with the way we’ve been playing, those guys (James Johnson), Justise, (Josh Richardson), they’ve played big players all year long and last year.”

Spoelstra said Winslow set the tone as Towns, who entered averaging 20.4 points and 11.5 rebounds, was a non-factor for most of the game. He missed all five of his first half attempts, two of those being 3-pointers.

“He set the tone at the beginning with his screens, quickness, his physicality, getting him off the block, but also pressuring on the top,” Spoelstra said. “We had him on the perimeter quite a bit at times and Justise was able to occupy him up there.”

Winslow was surprised the Timberwolves didn’t attempt to post-up Towns more against a player conceding five inches.

“I think we did a pretty good job of not letting them get any easy touches and they kind of went away from it because it was hard for them to get him the ball,” Winslow said.

“Our post defense is try not to let the guy touch the ball; just run him hard, try to make it hard for him to get touches. I think he got a little frustrated early in the game, he wasn’t getting the rhythm baskets he’s used to or even just the rhythm catches. So we just make it tough on him.”

Towns finished with a 18 points and 11 rebounds (empty numbers?). All but two of those points and four of those rebounds came in the final nine minutes when the game was decided. Minnesota was outscored by 18 points when Towns was on the floor.

“I think by the second half, he was kind of trying to force things,” Winslow said. “We just didn’t give him any easy looks, nothing easy. Toward the end of the game, he started getting a little going.”

The move allowed center Hassan Whiteside to stick with power forward Taj Gibson, who is more of a low-post player. Miami won that battle, too, with Whiteside scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds while Gibson had eight and eight.

“Taj is a little more down there,” Whiteside said. “He’s a lot more down there battling for rebounds so you know I really wanted to be down there to affect that.”

Winslow said the added burden of keeping a 7-footer off the glass and away from the rim helped him on the other end. He closed with eight points and six rebounds and made both of his 3-point attempts. Winslow entered the game 6-of-22 (.273) on threes.

“I think the defense, having that matchup and knowing I’m going against damn near an All-Star, I think that attitude and mentality that I approached the game with on the defensive end kind of helped me get in rhythm,” Winslow said. “And offensively, just playing not thinking about it and letting the game come to me. I think the defensive side definitely helped me get into a rhythm, though.”

Guarding Towns was good practice for what Winslow will face Sunday in Chicago. The Bulls are the only team to start two 7-footers and Winslow likely will be on rookie Lauri Markkanen, who is averaging 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds.

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