Miami Heat

Hassan Whiteside answered coach Erik Spoelstra’s challenge. Will he consistently continue?

Caris LeVert (No. 22) of the Brooklyn Nets works against Hassan Whiteside (No. 21) of the Miami Heat in the third quarter during their game Jan. 19, 2018, in Brooklyn. Whiteside scored 22, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots during the Heat’s 101-95 loss to the Nets.
Caris LeVert (No. 22) of the Brooklyn Nets works against Hassan Whiteside (No. 21) of the Miami Heat in the third quarter during their game Jan. 19, 2018, in Brooklyn. Whiteside scored 22, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots during the Heat’s 101-95 loss to the Nets. Getty Images

Hassan Whiteside answered his coach’s challenge following his big offensive game this past Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Spoelstra said after Whiteside scored a season-high 27 points against the Bucks: “Hey great job, Big Fella. Do it again, Friday.”

Whiteside scored 22, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots during the Heat’s 101-95 loss to the Brooklyn Nets Friday night.

It was the first time this seasonthat Whiteside scored 20 or more points in consecutive games.

Whiteside highlighted the performance with a pair of highlight-worthy dunks late in the first half, including a particularly impressive one where he drove and quickly spun around Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for the easy throwdown.

Whiteside has recorded double-doubles in six of his past seven games, and the Heat is 5-1 in those six games, losing only Friday night’s contest after a 16-point lead slipped away in the second half.

Whiteside is averaging 14.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 12 games since returning from a 13-game absence due to a left knee bone bruise.

“You know, I was just rolling and the team was hitting me in the right spots, that’s what they was doing,” Whiteside said. “When they come double me, I had to kick it back out, to try to find them guys and swing it around and try to get the best shot.”

Whiteside faced double and a few times even triple teams in the paint from the Nets during the game.

He had 11 points and eight rebounds in the first 10 minutes of the game and helped the Heat build its large second half lead before it vanished once the Nets switched to smaller, quicker lineup.

Whiteside went to the bench with 2:53 left in the third and returned to the game with 7:38 in the fourth quarter, helping the Heat retake the lead briefly at 83-81. But defensive breakdowns allowed the Nets to take the advantage again and put the game away down the stretch.

“I think that was really the turning point of the game, because it should have been over,” Whiteside said. “When you’re up 16 against a team in the third quarter, it shouldn’t be no way they come back from that. That’s where we’ve got to do a better job of playing with a lead. It shouldn’t have come down to the fourth quarter, it should have been over. We should have just kept building on that, up by 16.”

EMPATHY FOR FELLOW COACH

Spoelstra was glad to be matching wits once again with Hornets coach Steve Clifford on Saturday night.

Clifford returned to the sidelines this past Wednesday after missing Charlotte’s previous 21 games after taking a medical leave of absence due to recurring headaches caused by sleep deprivation.

Clifford returned to work on Tuesday when the Hornets practiced a day before scoring a season-high 133 points in a win over the Washington Wizards.

Clifford said in a recent interview with the media that he felt rested and plans to delegate more of his coaching duties to his assistants going forward. The Hornets (18-25), who are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings, went 9-12 during Clifford’s absence.

“It’s great [that he’s back], and we texted this week,” Spoelstra said. “That’s scary. There’s a great deal of stress to this position so all the coaches empathize with what we’re going through. It’s a great opportunity and none of us take it for granted, but it also reminds us you have to be very intentional about taking care of yourself.

“I’ve gone down that road and we’re not perfect. I think all of our defaults is to become more obsessive and a lot of times that’s counterproductive so it’s a really difficult thing to fight against but we’re all thrilled to have him back out there and you could see the team felt great about it to in just how well they played.”

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