Miami Heat

Hassan Whiteside’s return gives Heat a tantalizing taste of what could be

Hassan Whiteside goes to the basket against Amar’e Stoudemire during the Heat’s Red, White & Pink Game.
Hassan Whiteside goes to the basket against Amar’e Stoudemire during the Heat’s Red, White & Pink Game.

This is what you would term a tease. It lasted just three minutes and 22 seconds, in the opening quarter of an open scrimmage with a running clock, a scrimmage significant mostly for the cause — breast cancer research and awareness. But this small slice of time, resulting in just four points, still represented the most promising stretch of the Heat’s preseason thus far.

That’s because it was the first time Miami’s projected starters were on the floor together in a competitive setting — Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and now, center Hassan Whiteside, who, after rehabbing a calf injury for roughly three weeks, had been cleared after completing the morning practice.

This is the group Pat Riley envisioned since February, when he acquired Dragic, only to see Bosh’s season officially end that same day. Then, after a harrowing summer, in which Miami sweated Bosh’s recovery, Deng’s opt-in decision and Dragic and Wade’s contract negotiations, Whiteside’s injury delayed the process again.

Now Whiteside is back.

The Heat can finally move forward.

“I was encouraged,” Erik Spoelstra said after the scrimmage, in which Whiteside recorded 15 points, nine rebounds and a block, while playing with several different combinations, though never the four other starters after those opening minutes. “You see how he just changes the game in the paint. You can’t scheme for that.”

The Heat cannot replicate it with anyone else, even as it has its deepest stable of frontcourt players in years. This is why many cite Whiteside’s maturity and consistency as defining variables of this Heat season.

Whiteside played 40 games with Deng, 36 with Wade, 21 with Dragic and just 18 with Bosh, enough for all to understand how he can ease their burdens.

Bosh, after playing out of position at center in recent seasons, spoke Thursday morning of how he will be in fewer screen-and-rolls on defense. He should be freed up more to float around offensive sets too, serving as a stretch-four to a true low-post option.

“I really feel we complement each other well, because our games are so different,” Whiteside said.

Whiteside helps Dragic too, because as the point guard said, “when we get rebounds, we can run” — Whiteside gets the former, and Dragic desperately wants to do the latter.

How does Whiteside help Wade? The 11-time All-Star, who relies on guile as much as athleticism these days, called it “huge” that Whiteside’s presence can unclog the halfcourt.

“Everyone has (written) about it, I’m sure,” Wade said. “We don’t have Kyle Korver, Mike Miller, we don’t have those guys. We have to find a way with our talent to be able to create space. One, with our body movement. Two, with our talent individually, to be able to draw two (defenders) and to be able to give someone an open look. It’s good to have multiple guys who can do that.”

Whiteside should be one. After admitting in the morning that his calf was still a little tight, he played loose. He was active and persistent, and got stronger as the game went on. That made this a good start for him, as the part of what the Heat hopes will be a great starting lineup.

Related stories from Miami Herald