Hassan Whiteside wouldn’t take the bait.
Before the Heat’s game Wednesday night at Detroit, the 7-footer was given a chance to declare himself the best center in the Eastern Conference; or at least put himself in the same category as Detroit’s All-Star, Andre Drummond.
“It’s not about the best center or anything like that,” said Whiteside, preferring the politically correct response. “I’m just trying to come out here and get wins. I don’t look for recognition because then you get disappointed.”
Although Whiteside and Drummond took different routes to NBA stardom, there is no denying their impact.
Whiteside entered the game averaging 18.8 points, 15.9 rebounds and 2.69 blocks. His rebounding average led the NBA and his blocks was second. Drummond wasn’t far behind, averaging 14.6 points, 13.9 rebounds (second in the NBA) and 1 block.
“Hassan Whiteside is playing as well as any big man in the league. His numbers are mind-boggling,” said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. “To be averaging 19 points and 16 rebounds, that’s incredible work in this league. He’s gotten a lot better. He seems very comfortable in their system and with their guys.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t think there was much separation, at least from a talent standpoint, between Drummond and his big man.
“For as much talk around the league about small ball, there’s a lot of good centers right now,” Spoelstra said. “I love it for Hassan. He’s shouldering a lot of responsibility for us. He has to play at a high level for us to win. He’s really embracing that.”
Spoelstra also was given an opportunity to proclaim Whiteside the East’s best center.
“He’s one of the top centers in the league, forget about the East,” Spoelstra said. “Drummond has already proven that.”
Van Gundy has been impressed with Whiteside’s dedication and commitment to becoming an elite player, especially considering the years he spent trying to simply earn an NBA roster spot.
“Hassan Whiteside is a great lesson for other players and for those of us making personnel decisions in the league,” Van Gundy said. “With any player, but especially big guys, sometimes it doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t give up on players.”
Whiteside was looking forward to facing Drummond, although again, he gave the safe answer.
“Waking up in the morning, I ate my bowl of cereal. That brings out the best in me,” Whiteside said. “Looking up to the sky and realizing how blessed I am, that’s brings the best out of me. Every game, I come out to compete.”
Van Gundy, who helped coach Dwyane Wade in Miami for many years, said it’s not weird to play the Heat minus their former star. However, when the Pistons face Chicago for the first time Dec. 6, that will be difficult.
“That’s when it will be strange to me, seeing him in another jersey,” Van Gundy said. “When we go to Chicago and he’s wearing that jersey, that will seem strange. But that’s the way it is now. Very, very, very few guys are going to finish where they start.
“It certainly looked for a long time like he would have been one of the guys that would have finished there. In a lot of ways, it’s sad. That’s not putting blame on anybody, it’s just the way the system is.”
The Heat were planning to spend Thanksgiving in Memphis. They play the Grizzlies on Friday night.
“We’re going to Memphis, but we’re opening it up to all the families and friends,” Spoelstra said. “Anybody that can fly somebody out there, we want them to. We’re just going to have a nice private dinner.”
With the Heat retiring Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey on Dec. 22, TNT - which employs O’Neal as a studio analyst - added the Heat-Lakers game to its schedule that night and dropped a Boston-Indiana game. Tipoff for that Thursday night Heat game has been shifted from 7:30 to 8 p.m.