The Miami Heat will retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey at halftime of Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, a well-earned honor for the big man who catapulted the franchise from a contender to champion for the first time.
But it’s the Heat’s current big man – center Hassan Whiteside – who has stolen some of O’Neal’s thunder in the last 24 hours.
Much like the Hall of Fame center O’Neal used to complain about not getting enough touches in crunchtime when he played, Whiteside did the same after Tuesday’s heartbreaking double overtime loss to the Orlando Magic. But instead of creating perhaps an uncomfortable situation a day later, coach Erik Spoelstra embraced Whiteside’s feelings as a positive step in his growth.
“I’m OK with that. You know why? Because it matters right now to him and he’s learning how to impact winning,” Spoelstra said Wednesday after Whiteside said he and his coach and a couple of teammates met to discuss ‘what they’re looking for on offense.’
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“His instincts and all great players’ instincts is give me the ball,” Spoelstra continued. “There’s a myriad of plays that you can make to impact winning, but these games matter and it frustrates him not being able to help the team get over the hump and win. I think that is great progress from that standpoint.
“Look, I had three guys after the game that wanted the ball down the stretch. That is so invaluable for this group. We have a lot of young guys, guys that are experiencing new late-game situations and scenarios with different roles and responsibilities than they’ve had before in the past, and we’re growing from it.”
That’s a message team president Pat Riley echoed Wednesday. The growing pains, Riley said, are ultimate necessary as players like Whiteside move into bigger roles.
Riley also liked the fact Whiteside was frustrated and disappointed the Heat lost on a night he poured in a career-high 32 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in 47 minutes. He jokingly suggested Whiteside should walk into Spoelstra’s office “with a clipboard and a pen and diagram some plays he likes.”
“When you have players that play like that and you lose in double overtime you're going to be frustrated,” Riley said. “I think as he matures more to be a franchise player, you have to be an all of the time franchise player. And I think he’s on his way to becoming that. The more he goes through this kind of adversity and the sting of losing, the more he’s going to make sure we don't lose those games and he's going to be the difference maker at the end.”
Riley, though, agreed with O’Neal in that when Whiteside gets frustrated about his lack of touches “venting his frustration in another form is the best way to go about it.”
“What Hassan has to understand is that you can’t go about it like that,” O’Neal said. “I went about it like that and it was definitely the wrong way – and a lot of times it hurt me. He’s just needs to have a conversation with [Goran] Dragic and say, ‘look, you missed me a couple of times.’ And then whatever he needs to do for other guys, he needs to give [the ball] out.
“A lot of times you can use yourself as a decoy and kick it out to Tyler [Johnson], get him an easy bucket, or kick it out to someone else get them an easy bucket. Then it will become contagious. But you can’t be like that and say give me the rock. Because that’s not the right approach. Most times it doesn't end up well. It just ends up with more stories that don’t need to be written.”
Dragic said the Heat wants to get Whiteside the ball late in games. But ultimately the offense does what it has to when he’s double and triple covered in the paint.
“We were running plays coach wants us to run basically at the end of the game,” Dragic said. “[Tuesday] in some situations we did a pretty good job. Tyler was playing well, so coach put the ball in his hands.
“In four scoring situations, we scored three times out of four. It was good play-calling. Sometimes, it’s just hard. The paint is packed, everybody is in.”
Captain Udonis Haslem said although he understands Whiteside’s desire to win “taking on responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean getting the ball.”
“It’s a lot of things that are just as important as scoring points to win basketball games,” Haslem said. “So I can’t say Hassan getting the ball is going to change our problems.
“Shaq did used to complain about [touches]. But at the same time, we had a young guy named Dwyane Wade that Shaq understood was the future and he was willing to take a back seat and understand it wasn’t all about him getting the ball either.”
For his part, Whiteside didn’t back down from his comments on Wednesday. He said it’s just a part of his “competitive nature.”
“When you feel like you're dominating you get so caught up in trying to force a win for the team,” Whiteside said. “I wanted to win so bad. I don't think you all understand. I probably slept two hours last night. I just wanted to win so bad. I love these guys. We’ve got great fans. I just want us to win a championship every year. I just felt sorry. I just felt bad.”
He said he did see things on film Wednesday he didn’t necessarily see during Tuesday’s game about how to get the ball to his teammates better.
“I [saw] I missed Tyler on one of the post moves,” he said. “They had their whole team down there and I missed Tyler in the corner. It's just different things I missed that I wished I could go back and change that I didn't see. I didn't realize they had like five guys riding on me. It was actually quite remarkable.”
Thursday: Lakers (11-20) at Heat (9-20)
When/where: 8 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
TV/radio: TNT, SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Lakers lead 31-25
Scouting report: Guard Wayne Ellington (strained right hamstring) will miss his third consecutive game and rookie Rodney McGruder, who missed his first game of the season because of injury on Tuesday, is listed as questionable for Miami.