About an hour before he went out and led the Heat to a statement-making 108-96 season-opening victory Wednesday night in Orlando, Hassan Whiteside was asked about one of his recent Snapchat video segments, the one where he complains about how his video game skills are diminishing.
“I don’t know, man,” the 7-footer answered with a grin. “Basketball keeps getting in the way. I’ve got to get my priorities straight.”
For those wondering if his new $98 million contract and new multi-million-dollar home outfitted with a new super-sized fish tank are going to distract him from his new priorities as the Heat’s new front man, Whiteside’s opening night performance should provide some reassurance he’s probably not going to let that happen.
Because, for as much as the league’s reigning shot block leader still made Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stomp his feet and make funny faces when settling for long, lazy jumper in the first half, when the Heat needed Whiteside to turn the game around in the second half, he played like the dominant center Pat Riley made sure to retain this summer.
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“We need him to be great and he was that in the third quarter,” Spoelstra said of how Whiteside anchored Miami’s defense, turning a 53-50 halftime deficit into an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“It ignited everybody else to be able to be a little bit tougher on pick-and-rolls, to be able to challenge a little bit more knowing he was back there. Not only [did he] challenge [the Magic] at the rim, but [he] also rebounded. ... I like it when he has to fight through those emotions and find a way to come back and impact the game.”
Whiteside scored eight points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots in the third quarter on his way to an 18-point, 14-rebound, four-block night in 31 minutes.
In the end, though, Whiteside wasn’t talking about coming out and making a statement after signing his big contract this summer. Rather, he was focused on his 0-for-4 night at the free throw line, and how he was going to shoot 400 on his day off Thursday to make up for it.
“I'm just going to come out here and keep doing what I always did in my life — just put in the work, put in the hours,” he said. “That’s my mentality. I never get complacent on my game. That’s how I was able to find myself back in my situation, find myself back in the league.”
This isn’t just rhetoric. Veteran Udonis Haslem, the Heat’s captain and self-designated Whiteside counselor, said Tuesday he hasn’t had to speak to Whiteside once yet about his behavior or attitude in a long time and he said he’s begun to see real leadership out of him recently.
Wednesday, after Whiteside clearly frustrated Spoelstra by settling for a pair of long jump shots that missed in the second quarter, Haslem came over to him on the bench and spoke to him. Whiteside came out with a different attitude in the second half.
“I’ve got a lot I want to earn,” Whiteside said before Wednesday’s game. “I have awards I want to win, stuff I’ve got to earn. I want to be an All-Star. I think it just shows how much hard work you put in.”
Magic coach Frank Vogel, though, was pretty complimentary of Whiteside after Wednesday’s performance when the Heat won the battle in the paint 74-36.
“Our paint attack was less efficient because of Whiteside, quite frankly,” he said. “He’s a dominant force in there. We were 18 for 51 in the paint offensively.”
Said Magic center Nikola Vucevic: “We just kept going at Whiteside and he kept blocking shots.”
When the NBA’s annual survey of general managers came out a couple weeks ago, Whiteside did not receive a vote for best center in the league and finished sixth in the vote for best defensive player in the league. He only received one vote for best interior defender.
Asked Wednesday if he’s planning to do any campaigning to try and make this year’s All-Star team, Whiteside replied: “Nah. They can come watch the games. If they don’t think I’m good enough, oh well.”
Friday: Hornets at Heat
When/where: 8 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Heat lead 57-39
Scouting report: Miami split last season’s regular season series 2-2 and then won a tough seven-game first-round playoff series over the Hornets behind Goran Dragic’s big Game 7 performance. Forward Josh McRoberts (foot) is no longer listed on the Heat’s injury report, which still has guards Josh Richardson (knee) and Wayne Ellington (bruised quad) listed as out for Friday’s home opener. Hornets forward Frank Kaminsky (foot) missed Wednesday’s 107-86 season opening win at Milwaukee and is questionable.