Erik Spoelstra didn’t find it necessary to explain to Hassan Whiteside why he was pulling him out of the game a minute and 13 seconds into the second half Monday night at Golden State.
Whiteside knew why. He let Zaza Pachulia get behind him for a layup while he was busy arguing about an offensive foul call on him moments earlier.
So, instead of taking the time to explain it to him like he might have in the past, Spoelstra let the Heat’s $98 million center sulk by himself on the bench while rookie Bam Adebayo took the rest of Whiteside’s minutes in the second half of Miami’s 97-80 loss at Oracle Center. Then, afterward, Spoelstra let the Heat’s trio of captains deal with Whiteside’s issue internally.
Whiteside said Spoelstra didn’t speak to him or explain his reason for yanking him.
“I guess he thought it was better if I didn’t come back in,” Whiteside responded when asked after the game whether he asked Spoelstra to let him back on the court. “Coach, playing me 16 minutes, I guess that’s what he wanted me to play. … Last game, I played 31 minutes. I thought I played great [Sunday versus the Clippers]. Today, I played 16 minutes. So I really don’t know what I’m going to play [Wednesday] in Phoenix.”
The last thing the Heat (4-6) needed in the middle of a six-game road trip was for arguably its most important player to take a step backward and display the kind of maturity issues that used to get him in trouble. But it happened, and now the most important thing for Whiteside is to come back with the right kind of attitude, his teammates said.
“Minutes is earned, man. Minutes is earned on this team,” co-captain James Johnson said. “We had our talk [with Whiteside] as we should as a team and as the three captains that we are. And he gets it, man. I know he gets it.
“He’s the most athletic guy I know. He’s the heart of our team and he’s also the best big man in the league to me. I don’t care what nobody says. That’s just my opinion.”
The last time Whiteside was benched prior to Monday’s game was Dec. 9 in a 30-point blowout loss in Cleveland. Whiteside responded with 20 points and eight rebounds in his next game at Chicago and a career season, leading the NBA in rebounds a year after leading it in blocks.
That’s why maybe Whiteside’s teammates didn’t appear to be overly concerned about him having one bad night.
“Sometimes you just don’t have it. And he admitted, ‘Hey guys, I let you down,’ ” point guard Goran Dragic said. “Look, we’re here to help him. He’s on on our team. He’s our player. We love him and this is the only thing that matters.”
Udonis Haslem said that neither he nor his teammates were disappointed with Whiteside.
“We’re not disappointed, man,” Haslem said. “It’s not supposed to be easy. None of this is supposed to be easy, man. If you want to be a champion in this league, it’s not going to be easy. So everybody’s path is different. Hassan is still growing, you know what I’m saying. He’s still learning, he’s still growing, he’s still understanding what we expect from him. Every night you’re not going to have it in this league. So what we just need from Hassan is his energy. We feed off that and he’s our best player. We’re going to live and die with him. We’re going to ride with him, we’re going to stick behind him and we’re going to encourage him. We expect him to do the same for us.”
Dragic and Haslem both said that the fact the Heat was playing on the second night of a back-to-back was enough reason for them to understand why Whiteside’s game and effort was off.
“I mean it’s tough. He’s our main player,” Dragic said. “He’s protecting the paint. He’s getting offensive rebounds, blocked shots. But, we’re going to play with whoever we’ve got. I think Bam did an amazing job. He brought that energy that we needed. It’s tough. But you have so many games in this league and sometimes back-to-backs, sometimes your body doesn’t listen to you. But we have full confidence Hassan is going to be back and he’s going to be his old self again.”
Haslem said that mentally is where Whiteside and the Heat have to grow the most this season.
“On the second night of a back-to-back, man, sometimes your body is not going to have it,” the 15-year veteran said. “That’s when you got to have it with your mind. I preach to these guys 48 minutes of mentally stable basketball and not be mental midgets. That’s just something we got to continue to work on. We’re probably in a different situation if every game we didn’t have those four or five-minute lapses where mentally we’re just out of it. And then we get it back and we’re just fighting, fighting, fighting. So like I said, from the first guy on the bench to the last guy on the bench, we just got to make sure we stay mentally stable and into it for 48 minutes. It doesn’t mean you’re going to play perfect basketball, but we have to have it up top for 48 minutes.”