When Hassan Whiteside sliced open his right hand in March 2015, the Heat still had a shot at making the playoffs.
He missed three games — all Heat losses — because the pain was too much to bear. The Heat, a playoff long shot then, didn’t make the postseason.
This time around, Whiteside said Wednesday, things are a little different. Even though this gash is “a little bigger” and “hurts more” and required three more stitches than the last time (13 total), he’s not going to let pain dictate whether he plays or not when the Heat closes a five-game homstand against the Toronto Raptors (42-29) on Thursday night.
Whiteside, the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week last week and the league’s leading rebounder, said he’s coming to the arena on Thursday with every intention to play. Ultimately, he says, the Heat’s trainers will decide whether he does or doesn’t after he goes through drills on Thursday morning.
“It’s big, you know,” Whiteside said of the circumstances the Heat (35-36) faces being seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference, only a game up on the Detroit Pistons (34-37) and only 2 1/2 games back of the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks (37-33) with 11 regular-season games to go.
“I know guys want me out there a lot,” he continued. “It’s such an important point of the season. I know they really want me out there. As a competitor, it always changes your thinking because it’s such a crunch moment in the season. You know you want to do everything you possibly can to help the team. But you also don’t want to go out there and hurt the team.”
Whiteside didn’t practice Wednesday. Coach Erik Spoelstra wanted to give him the day off to heal.
The laceration, located between the middle and ring fingers of Whiteside’s right hand and in the same spot as the one he sustained two years ago, the center said, happened when he smacked his hand against the backboard as he attempted to block a shot by Suns power forward Marquese Chriss with 2:08 left in Miami’s 112-97 win on Tuesday night.
Whiteside said the pain he feels is “like a burning, throbbing” sensation. He said one thing he could do that he didn’t do last time is tape his middle and ring fingers together. That could help avoid the gash from reopening.
“There’s no treatment,” Whiteside said. “It’s basically letting it heal. It’s not really anything I can do to treat it.”
The last time Whiteside had a laceration on his right hand in late March 2015 he missed four games total because of the cut. He missed three games, came back to play three, then missed another game because of the hand laceration, and then played in four consecutive games before sitting out the regular-season finale with other starters after Miami was eliminated from playoff contention.
This season, the Heat is 2-3 in the five games Whiteside hasn’t played in, including a 12-point win at Chicago on Jan. 27, the last time Whiteside didn’t play. Backup Willie Reed started that game and had 20 points and five rebounds in 37-plus minutes.
Reed is averaging 5.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game this season, but he has been a valuable fill-in starter when Whiteside has been out. In his five starts this season, Reed is averaging 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks while shooting 68.6 percent from the field.
Defensively, the 6-11, 245-pound Reed is a bit different than Whiteside (7-0, 265). But the Heat has confidence in him.
“We feel like Willie can be up a little bit closer to the screens,” point guard Goran Dragic said. “And, of course, he’s athletic enough to block shots. And in the past, Willie already played well when Hassan was out.”
Spoelstra would likely start Reed and then turn to the undersized James Johnson (6-9, 250) and Okaro White (6-8, 204) to play some minutes at center in a backup role.
Veteran Udonis Haslem (6-8, 235) has appeared in only 16 games this season and hasn’t played since he went in for the final seven minutes, 21 seconds of a blowout victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 4. Of his 16 appearances, Haslem has played double-digit minutes in only five of those games and none more than the 20 minutes, 43 seconds he played on Jan. 1 against Detroit.
Haslem said Wednesday he’ll be ready if called upon. But he also believes there’s a chance Whiteside could play. He knows the circumstances are different this time and Whiteside himself is a different player.
“Experience is the best teacher,” said Haslem, who throughout his career has played through numerous injuries. “You get to a point where your comfortable being uncomfortable.
“Obviously, the pain in his finger was uncomfortable for him and something new. But going through a whole NBA season and experiencing something like that before, he’s getting a little more comfortable being out of his comfort zone and being uncomfortable.”
Thursday: Raptors at Heat
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Arena.
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 50-27.
Scouting report: Toronto forward Serge Ibaka was ejected from Tuesday night’s win over Chicago after he exchanged punches with Bulls center Robin Lopez and both got suspended for one game by the league on Wednesday. Toronto is already without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry (wrist), who didn’t play in the Heat’s 104-89 win in Miami on March 11.