When coach Erik Spoelstra walked out of the Heat locker room for his pregame news conference on Saturday night, a happy, smiling Hassan Whiteside was by his side.
“This is for you guys,” Spoelstra said with a grin, trying to drive home the point that the Heat’s coach and $98 million center were still on good terms even after Spoelstra yanked Whiteside from the floor for not playing with enough energy in the third quarter on Friday night in Cleveland.
“Yeah, we spoke today after the walkthrough,” Spoelstra continued. “It’s all part of the maturation process of Hassan Whiteside and how important he is to us and him playing at his highest level. You can see it when he’s playing at an extremely high intensity level.”
Whiteside came out with plenty of intensity during the first half, posting 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 18 stellar minutes against the Bulls.
But he ran into foul trouble in the second half, Chicago went on an 18-2 run early in the third quarter and the Heat (7-17), playing its fourth game in five nights, dropped its fifth consecutive game with a tough-to-stomach 105-100 loss to Dwyane Wade and the Bulls at the United Center.
“That team over there, they’re scrappy,” said Wade, who keyed that big Bulls run in the third quarter with 11 points. “We lost a game like this earlier this year against the Lakers. We weren’t playing great, and they found a way to beat us. Never begrudge a win. We played good enough to get a win.”
Jimmy Butler scored 31 points and added seven rebounds and five assists to lead Chicago (13-10), which made only one three-pointer but connected on 28 of its 31 free-throw attempts, scored 20 second-chance points and outscored Miami 54-52 in the paint.
Wade finished with 28 points, three rebounds and three assists, and according to Spoelstra sniffed out what the Heat was trying to do on its final possession down 103-100 with seven seconds to play.
With the clock winding down and the Heat out of timeouts, Goran Dragic, who led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists, tried to get the ball in Josh Richardson’s hands on a handoff. Instead, it turned into Miami’s 12th turnover of the game and the Bulls hung on to win.
“I saw Goran getting pressured, so I cut up top to give him relief,” said Richardson, who finished with 11 points, three rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes off the bench in his first game since Nov. 28.
“I was going to take the shot if I would have gotten it, but I bobbled it. It was nobody’s fault, really. It was just one of those things.”
The Bulls stretched their lead to 73-60 on a Wade fastbreak dunk with 6:31 left in the third quarter, and the Heat just couldn’t catch them after that. Miami trimmed Chicago’s lead to 97-96 on a Tyler Johnson corner three-pointer with 4:20 remaining in the game. But the next time down the floor, Butler drove through the lane, made a layup and drew Whiteside’s fifth foul.
The teams went into the break tied at 55 before Wayne Ellington opened the second half with a three-pointer. Chicago then went on its 18-2 run while Whiteside was busy racking up fouls. He picked up four in the quarter and scored only four points and grabbed one rebound in 14 minutes in the second half.
“He’s big, he’s physical,” Spoelstra said. “We would appreciate it more if they were fouls that were more of the physical variety. A couple of them looked like they were phantom fouls. But I thought he brought a great presence. And he was a little bit hobbled with his hip and his knee. But he brought a competitive energy that’s needed for our basketball team.”
Whiteside, who scored the Heat’s first eight points, finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 32 minutes. His teammates did a better job Saturday getting him the ball in good spots early in the game.
“I wasn’t 100 percent, but I just tried my best to tough it out,” Whiteside said. “Basically, the team kind of just needed it. Whatever I could give, I tried to give. You got to do that sometimes.”
Now, the Heat heads home to start a six-game homestand Monday night against the Washington Wizards. The hope, Spoelstra said, is one or two of the four injured players who stayed back in Miami during the trip will return to help the Heat’s cause.
“It will be great,” Whiteside said. “I’ve seen some stat where it was like we only got like two minutes with a couple starters, so it will be great to get Justise [Winslow], Dion [Waiters] and them guys back. I’m really happy for what the future holds.”