UPDATE: The Miami Heat announced Hassan Whiteside will start against the Toronto Raptors.
Hassan Whiteside put his freshly stitched-up right hand to the test at shootaround Thursday morning – and barring any setbacks – he said he still intends to suit up and play for the Miami Heat when they host the Toronto Raptors at 7:30 p.m.
“You know I’m still keeping an open mind,” said Whiteside, who needed 13 stitches Tuesday night to close a gash between his middle finger and ring figers. “We’re going to see how it feels later. I’m still keeping an open mind to come out here and give what I can.”
The Heat (35-36) gained a bit of a cushion in the playoff standings Wednesday night when the Bulls knocked off the Pistons, creating a 1 1/2 game gap between Miami and both Chicago (34-38) and Detroit (34-38).
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But just because the Heat is guaranteed to remain in the eighth seed regardless of Thursday’s outcome with Toronto doesn’t mean the team wants its $98 million center to get the night off. If he can play with the stitches and help the team, Whiteside said, he will.
When he went through shootaround Thursday morning his middle finger and ring finger were taped together so his fingers do not separate, potentially reopening the wound. Whiteside’s hand was also heavily padded. As far as shooting, the majority of the shots Whiteside took were left-handed.
“It's obviously tougher when you’ve got your hand taped up together like this,” Whiteside said. “It’s harder to hold the ball and do different things. I'm a high volume rebounder, grabbing rebounds, using my right. We’re going to try a couple things to make it where I don't have to worry about the stitches opening up, pad it up nice and pretty and see how it feels.”
Though he may stay away from dunking, Whiteside said he has confidence he can still be a threat on the offensive end.
“I got a pretty good left,” he said. “So, either way, either hand, if I’m around the rim, the touch can kind of just take over. It’s different, a game atmosphere. We’ll see how the performance goes. I want to keep an open mind though.
“I love this game. So I'm going to come and just try to compete. Like I said man, when it comes to injuries or any injuries, you've got to really ask yourself if I play will I help the team or will I hurt the team. I would never want to be out there and hurt the team. So if I feel like I can play and be beneficial for the team, I'll play.”
The fact Whiteside is pushing to play is not lost on his teammates or coach.
“It’s encouraging,” Josh Richardson said. “It gives us, you know, a lot more confidence in our best player that he wants to be out there battling with us. He wants to be out there sacrificing himself with his brothers. I think it just brings us closer to him.
“Just him being out there just affects the way other people play. He may not even block a shot. But him being down there will make a guy think or second-guess his shot or maybe kick it out to someone else. He has a big affect on the game. He has the rebounding record already and we’ve got 10 games left. His presence on the boards helps, too.”
Point guard Goran Dragic said he once tried to play with stitches in his hand, too. Dragic said the results weren’t great for him, but he feels like Whiteside can provide the Heat with a badly needed lift.
“I know what he’s going through because I had the same injury,” said Dragic, who said he played in a tournament with his hand stitched up when he was 16-years-old. “It’s not fun, but he’s a tough dude.
“We know what Hassan can bring, especially defensively. He can disrupt a lot of shots, just to have him out there it means a lot to this team. We’ll see.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said Whiteside’s decision to try and play Thursday will have nothing to do with toughness.
“It’s about responsibility and it’s about caring for the guys in the locker room,” he said. “There’s so much love the guys have for him and that he has for them that you really start to develop a brotherhood. Sometimes that can be a cliché, but when it does develop and is pure you want to be there for your guys. And he really genuinely feels how much the guys care about him and how much we need him.
“His growth has been on so many different levels, not just as a basketball player but just from a maturity standpoint, as a professional, his approach, his consistency. The award that he got last week, there are many more of those to come and bigger and better things too with the way he’s progressing.”