Most of the numbers suggest Heat center Hassan Whiteside had a rough night Saturday against the Magic.
The player he was guarding most of the night — Nikola Vucevic — scored 22 points on 11-of-22 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out six assists, recorded three steals and blocked a shot. Whiteside, meanwhile, was 2 of 5 from the field with seven points, six rebounds, and three blocks.
But looking beyond the boxscore is what the Heat is asking Whiteside to do more of these days.
Even though he’s playing for what likely will be a big contract this summer, the team is trying to get the 26-year-old, 7-foot shot-swatter to realize there can be greater value in doing the less flashy parts of his job, such as setting screens, making free throws, stepping out on shooters (instead of waiting in the paint to block shots and rebound) and earning the trust of his teammates.
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“I told Hassan in there, that was a tremendous team game on his part defensively,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after the Heat rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter against the Magic on Saturday. Whiteside and Gerald Green were on the floor for all 12 minutes of the final period.
“Even though they have shooting bigs, he just made a lot of good things happen,” Spoelstra continued. “I think it was his best stat line of the year, and it was his worst individual statistics in a game. He probably doesn’t agree with me. But he’s starting to understand how much of an impact he can make. Sometimes it’s not the statistics everybody notices. But you felt his presence in this game. That was the most important thing.”
And that’s why Spoelstra is beginning to trust Whiteside enough to play him more in the fourth quarter.
Over the Heat’s last four games, he has the second-most fourth quarter minutes on the team (39) behind only Green (43), while playing better than 11 minutes in three of those four games in the final period. That’s a big difference from the Heat’s first 25 games, when Whiteside sat out seven times in the fourth quarter and played a total of 79 fourth-quarter minutes (ninth most on the team), going a combined minus-12.
He has been a combined plus-nine over his last four games in the fourth quarter, including plus-11 against the Magic and plus-11 against the Trail Blazers on Dec. 20.
His one stinker: a minus-12 effort in four minutes when the Heat blew a 12-point lead to the Pelicans and ended up having to win in overtime.
Late in Saturday’s win, Whiteside picked up Magic guard Elfrid Payton after he dribbled past Goran Dragic and defended him well enough to get him to miss a layup. Chris Bosh grabbed the rebound and Miami went on to secure the win with Dwyane Wade at the free-throw line.
“He’s our anchor in the paint. Every time somebody penetrates he’s going to be there,” Dragic said. “When he does that, we can pressure more. When you pressure, then the guys can go by you sometimes and then you have big fella behind your back who is going to protect you. That’s that trust I was talking about before. If everybody is on the same page, then we’re tough to beat.”
Bosh, who has the highest fourth-quarter plus/minus rating on the team (plus-58), said the Heat couldn’t have won Saturday’s game had Whiteside not been out there in the fourth quarter. Bosh said the team is making sure to recognize Whiteside’s statistical sacrifices.
“Sometimes it’s going to be like that for him and really for all of us,” Bosh said. “Just because you don’t show up in the stat sheet doesn’t mean you weren’t an important piece for wins. We all have to remember that, and if it’s not our night, we just keep doing what we’re doing, keep playing defense, keep getting second chances and live with it. He can’t lose sight of that. As long as we get the win, that’s what’s most important.”
When Whiteside’s plus/minus rating is above zero, the Heat are 13-3. Asked why he thinks he’s playing more lately in the fourth quarter, Whiteside pointed to those numbers.
“A lot of times I’m not going to have a ton of rebounds or a ton of blocks or a ton of scoring every night,” he said. “But if we got a win, it was a good game for us.”
Monday: Nets at Heat
When/where: 7:30 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Heat leads 64-45
Scouting report: Backup point guard Tyler Johnson (left shoulder impingement) is targeting Monday’s game as his first back since he played five first-half minutes in a win at Brooklyn on Dec. 16. The Heat won that game thanks to a strong fourth-quarter finish by Dwyane Wade. … The Nets lost to the Wizards by 15 on Saturday. … Former Miami Hurricanes point guard Shane Larkin (concussion) didn’t play against the Heat the first go-round, but returned to action on Wednesday.