Give this victory to Hassan Whiteside.
The Heat’s center went supernova in the final three minutes on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, and it was something special to watch. Yes, it was just the basement-dwelling Los Angeles Lakers, but Miami’s new rising star put a struggling team atop his broad and brooding shoulders and carried the team to a 100-94 victory all the same.
The 25-year-old, who was playing in the D-League in November, had 18 points and 25 rebounds, including seven points and five rebounds in those final crucial three minutes. Whiteside now has four games this season with at least 20 rebounds, which already puts him at second in franchise history for that accomplishment. Rony Seikaly had 20 or more rebounds 21 times during this career.
Whiteside might eclipse Seikaly by next season the way he’s playing.
The Heat (27-33) led 93-92 with a minute left when Whiteside popped the top off the arena with a jaw-dropping, one-handed alley-oop from Dwyane Wade. Whiteside then finished with a layup on a pass from Wade with 21 seconds to go. The center then went 3 of 4 from the free-throw line in the final 15 seconds.
It was the Heat’s first back-to-back victories at home since the beginning of the season.
“It’s good to see us show some grit in the fourth quarter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “A lot of games are going to be like this down the stretch, ultra-competitive.”
Wade had 25 points, five rebounds and six assists and not only got Whiteside involved in the final minute, but also helped rein in Whiteside’s emotions when it seemed like the young center was letting the moment defeat him.
Whiteside received a technical foul with 2:05 left in the third quarter for arguing with an official. Spoelstra then pulled Whiteside out of the game, and the Lakers took the lead four minutes into the fourth quarter.
Whiteside checked back in with 7:29 left in the game and the Heat trailing by four points.
“Guys are going to check out for a few seconds, and we’ll allow guys to have an emotional burst to themselves, but for a good team to take the next step of growth, you have to allow your teammates to bring you back. And he did, and he also was an active participant in that,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside’s temper.
On Monday, Whiteside was ejected from the Heat’s game against the Phoenix Suns after tackling center Alex Len under the basket. Without saying it, Spoelstra indicated the team corrected Whiteside during a team huddle with some tough love.
“Our communication was very good in the huddles,” Spoelstra said. “Guys were trying to get it right. In the first half, we did virtually everything wrong, but the guys were trying to hold each other accountable, and sometimes that conversation in the huddle is not PG, and that’s the way it has to be sometimes. It’s a man’s game.
“That’s not the time to have an emotion outburst at the official, but he gets hit a lot. He’s an aggressive, physical player. He’ll work through it because he wants to, we’re demanding that he does it, but I’m also demanding that he does not back off on his physicality and his disposition, his aggressiveness. We need that from him.”
Point guard Goran Dragic had 21 points and six assists for the Heat. Luol Deng had 15 points. Seven Lakers scored in double figures in the loss.
The Heat now travels to Washington for a critical game against the Wizards. Washington has lost seven of its last eight games and has just three victories since the end of January. In a testament to how absolutely wretched the bottom half of the East has been this season, the Wizards are still fifth in the conference standings.
▪ If they weren’t already, the words “short fuse” might be in bold letters on Whiteside’s scouting report for the rest of the season. Whiteside said before the game that teams might target him after his incident with Phoenix Suns center Alex Len on Monday, but also added that it wouldn’t be anything different than his first few months back in the NBA. Whiteside was fined $15,000 by the NBA on Tuesday for tackling Len. Len initiated the altercation by slinging Whiteside to the ground.
“I feel like they’ve been doing that since I got here, though, and just doing whatever they think they can do that refs won’t call to keep me from getting the rebound or finishing because my free throws are now where I want them to be at this moment,” Whiteside said. “I always hear coaches saying foul him.”
Whiteside doesn’t plan on backing down from anyone but said he won’t be getting into any more fights. He did receive a technical foul on Wednesday for arguing with an official.
“I’ll just walk away from it and hopefully let the ref see that the other guy is instigating it and not me,” Whiteside said.
If anything, Spoelstra wants Whiteside to be more aggressive.
“He’s a physical player,” Spoelstra said. “I want him to be physical and play with an edge. There’s a fine line with that. I don’t think he’s going to cross the line. I think the other game was a learning experience, but I don’t want him to back off on his physicality one bit.”
▪ Zoran Dragic was assigned to the Sioux Falls Skyforce on Wednesday. The D-League regular season ends on April 4 with a postseason to follow, but Dragic could be recalled before then.
▪ Michael Beasley had a difficult adjustment period when he moved to China to play basketball:
“When you’re by yourself, and a lot of us NBA and NFL, professional athletes and entertainers can relate to this, you’re never really by yourself, and you don’t realize you’re by yourself until the dishes are not being washed and the food is not being cooked. And I could have sworn there was 20 Gatorades in here, but there are only two. And you got to go grocery shopping and wash clothes and you got to do everything. And you don’t realize you’re by yourself until you’re alone, and your stomach gets to growling and no one is there to feed you.”