There is no question the breakout performance by Hassan Whiteside on Sunday at Staples Center reenergized the Heat.
The team practiced inside Pauley Pavilion at UCLA on Monday afternoon and president Pat Riley was in good spirits, which hasn’t necessarily been the case ever since, well, last summer.
Coach Erik Spoelstra was upbeat, too, and punching his hands for emphasis when he talked with reporters.
And then there was Chris Bosh, who might have the most to gain out of anyone by the emergence of the new center, who had 23 points and 16 rebounds against the Clippers.
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“I don’t have to play the five,” Bosh said.
Back at his natural position, power forward, Bosh had 34 points on Sunday in the Heat’s surprisingly dominant 104-90 victory. He shot 13 of 20 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and 6 of 7 from the free-throw line, enjoying the type of offensive freedom that goes along with being the No.1 option on a team with another legitimate inside presence to draw defenders.
The Heat (16-21) plays the Lakers (12-26) on Tuesday back at Staples Center with a chance to win two games in a row for the first time since the last week of November. Bosh says the Heat is done being “consistently inconsistent.”
“That was us before,” Bosh said. “I don’t think that’s us anymore, but we can only prove that on the court. [Tuesday] is another chance for us. This two-in-a-row thing, we should treat this like a championship. We have to have the attitude that we haven’t had in a long time. So, this is our chance to move forward.”
Spoelstra was a little more reserved about his team’s suddenly promising outlook with Whiteside in the middle, and it has been clear for a few days now that the Heat’s coach is trying to temper expectations. He actually rolled his eyes at one point during an interview when asked whether Whiteside would be playing more minutes Tuesday and in the future.
“Ready or not,” said Spoelstra, who noted Whiteside wouldn’t start against the Lakers, but, similar to Sunday, indicated Whiteside would likely be in the first five to begin the second half.
Spoelstra’s coaching adjustments lately have spoken volumes about how much more dynamic the Heat’s offense and defense can perform with Whiteside on the floor.
The 7-foot center was the Heat’s first player off the bench against the Clippers and he had a double-double before halftime. Whiteside then started the third quarter, finished with career numbers and opened up Bosh for easier looks at the basket.
“He keeps the defense honest,” Spoelstra said. “Certainly you have to play [Whiteside] all the way to the rim and sometimes above the rim to be able to get to him, and that will open up some things. It could open up Dwyane [Wade] on a drive, one of our perimeters on a drive, or a pass back to C.B. Teams have been defending that lately.”
Trained eyes on Sunday recognized how much Wade’s leadership impacted the game when Whiteside was on the floor, and Spoelstra and Bosh are both hoping Wade continues in his role as experienced facilitator.
Wade coached Whiteside on the court and it was Wade who repeatedly recognized the Clippers’ double teams and found Whiteside for easy points.
“He has great hands,” Wade said. “His arms are heck-of-a-long, so his reach is really high. But he has great timing. The kid can play basketball, and a lot of times in this league it’s about opportunity and it’s about timing, and the right time, and it’s the right time for both of us.
“We needed him and he needed us and it’s working for both of us.”
▪ The Heat is back to 15 players after officially signing shooting guard Tyler Johnson to a 10-day contract. He will suit up Tuesday against the Lakers. Johnson participated in the Heat’s preseason training camp before being waived. He then signed with the Heat’s D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Next for Heat: at Lakers
When, where: 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Staples Center, Los Angeles.
TV, radio: Sun Sports; WAXY 104.3 FM, 790 AM and WAQI 710 AM (Spanish).
Series: Lakers lead 30-22.
Noteworthy: The Heat is back to 15 players after officially signed shooting guard Tyler Johnson to suit up in Tuesday’s game against the Lakers. Johnson participated in the Heat’s preseason training camp before being waived before the season. Johnson then signed with the Heat’s D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Johnson’s 10-day contract will allow him to play in Oakland on Wednesday and Sacramento on Friday.