Miami Heat

How Hassan Whiteside’s absence is being felt on the scoreboard and by his coach

San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol (16) drives around Miami Heat center Kelly Olynyk during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in San Antonio.
San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol (16) drives around Miami Heat center Kelly Olynyk during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. AP

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 117-105 loss to the Spurs at AT&T Center, which dropped Miami to 11-13 on the season:

1. Not having Hassan Whiteside around creates a lot of problems and coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t trying to hide that anymore. You know Spoelstra is a no excuses kind of guy. He always says the Heat has enough to win on most nights. But his tune was a little different after Miami’s latest loss to another elite Western Conference foe.

With Whiteside out and Miami looking to match San Antonio’s size and experience with LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt, Spoelstra swapped Justise Winslow and rookie Bam Adebayo in the starting lineup for veterans James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk. The Heat was still outscored 54-28 in the paint and outrebounded 34-29.

“I mean, obviously he changes so many different dynamics,” Spoelstra said of his 7-foot, 265-pound center, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a bone bruise and ninth this season (the Heat is 3-6 without Whiteside and 8-7 with him). “So we felt that this would give us our best chance to get off to a good start and work it from there. They’re unique, because they start two 7-footers and they both are legitimate post-up threats and I felt that we needed to get a little bit bigger with J.J. in there, and K.O. obviously brings some things to that starting group offensively. I don’t know if I’ll stay with that group for the Brooklyn game, but we’ll see.”

The numbers haven’t always been on Whiteside’s side in the past when it comes to showing his direct impact on the team defensively. But FoxSports highlighted the difference this season and it is significant.

The Heat is not only allowing nine more points per game (109.6) when Whiteside doesn’t play, but teams are shooting significantly better (49.5 percent compared to 43.3 percent), outrebounding Miami by a larger margin (4.8) than it usually does (1.1) and averaging 50.3 points in the paint compared to 41.1.

“When you lose a player like Hassan, who impacts so many different things on both sides of the floor, you do have to consider matchups,” Spoelstra said of how he’ll handle the Heat’s starting lineup moving forward. “Your team isn’t the normal group. So we’ll continue to evaluate whoever we think gives us the best chance for Saturday night, that’s who we’ll go with.”

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra signals to his players during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. Eric Gay AP

2. Even elite three-point shooting nights are not enough to lift this Heat team past good teams. Miami made 18 three-pointers Wednesday and has now made at least a baker’s dozen 12 times this season. But did you know Miami is now 6-6 when it makes it at least 13 threes?

Not surprisingly the losses are all to good teams: San Antonio (17-8), Denver (13-11), Golden State (20-6), Detroit (14-10), Washington (13-11) and Indiana (14-11). Four of the six wins, meanwhile, came against teams with losing records: Atlanta (5-19), L.A. Clippers (8-15), Charlotte (9-14) and Chicago (3-20).

The moral of the story: The Heat can make all the threes it wants, but if they don’t play defense it doesn’t matter. San Antonio shot 52.9 percent from the field and had 30 assists on Wednesday.

The Heat is 3-10 when teams shoot 45 percent or better against them and 8-3 when they hold teams under that. That’s why Spoelstra always stresses defense over offense.

Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson (8) drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol (16) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. Eric Gay AP

3. Tyler Johnson likes lighting up the Spurs. Now, the Heat need him to do it to other teams. Johnson’s shooting struggles this season have been well documented. But he’s now put together both of his 20-point scoring games this season against San Antonio.

After scoring a season-high 23 on the Spurs back Oct. 25, Johnson poured in a new season-high 25 in a little over 30 minutes against the Spurs on Wednesday. He finished 9 of 12 from the field and 5 of 8 from three-point range.

“He gives you such an incredible spark, when he plays like that,” Spoelstra said of Johnson. “He competes defensively. He’s always around the ball. And then, you know, you have a go-to guy on the other end of the floor. But the thing about the go-to mentality is he left the game come to him. I thought he was very poised with his actions. He took shots when they were available. He spaced the floor and moved into open gaps when that was available, as well. He just had a very patient, poised game and I feel that and hope that’s something he can build on.”

Miami Heat forward Josh Richardson (0) shoots between San Antonio Spurs defenders Davis Bertans (42) and LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. Eric Gay AP

4. Josh Richardson finally appears to be breaking out of his shooting slump. Developing into a consistent scoring option is the hardest thing to do in the NBA, but the Heat’s starting small forward is starting to show signs his rough start to the season is behind him. Wednesday, Richardson had 19 points on 7 of 10 shooting and was 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.

Over his last five games, Richardson is leading the team with 17.2 points per game and he’s shooting 58.6 percent from the field and 48 percent from three-point range. Through the Heat’s first 19 games, Richardson averaged 8.2 points on 35.3 percent shooting from the field and 25.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Of the last five games the only one Richardson struggled shooting was in Miami’s 29-point loss to the Knicks. he finished 5 of 14 that night.

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) works the ball around San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. Eric Gay AP

5. Goran Dragic, meanwhile, is headed in the other direction. Miami’s starting point guard averaged 19.2 points on 47 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three. But over his last five games, Dragic is averaging only 9.6 points, shooting 34 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range.

Dragic was 3 of 11 from the field for eight points and a team-worst minus-26 in plus/minus on Wednesday. He’s now scored in single digits in 6 of his last 10 games.