Miami Heat

Hassan Whiteside huge in Heat’s rout of Wizards

pportal@elnuevoherald.com

This assuredly ranks among the most remarkable statistics for this decade’s Heat: Miami is 14-3 when it plays without both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh since Bosh joined the franchise.

Faced with that predicament again Saturday against Washington, the Heat won for the fifth time in six games with both Wade and Bosh sidelined during the post-LeBron James era.

This 114-94 drubbing of visiting Washington was not only impressive but also aesthetically pleasing, much like Friday’s short-handed win in Atlanta.

One difference from Friday: Hassan Whiteside was available, back from a one-game suspension. And he was brilliant.

Coach Erik Spoelstra again used him off the bench, and Whiteside did all sorts of damage, with 25 points (matching a career high), a season-high 23 boards (the fifth 20-plus rebound game of his career) and two blocks in 29 minutes. He became the first player to produce at least 25 and 22 off the bench since Detlef Schrempf in 1992.

“I couldn’t wait to get back out here,” said Whiteside, who watched Friday’s Hawks game on TV with Tyler Johnson and was determined to fit into the suddenly faster Heat pace.

Throw in more terrific work from Goran Dragic (24 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, no turnovers) and Luol Deng (27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists), and that was more than enough to dispatch a Washington team playing its third game in as many nights, a scheduling snafu necessitated by a January snowstorm.

As for Bosh, he did not attend the game, and the Heat again declined to give any update on his status. Bosh has been dealing with a blood clot in his calf while trying to determine the feasibility of a return at some point this season.

Wade missed his second game in a row with left knee soreness, but “everything came back negative [with the MRI],” Spoelstra said. “He’ll be day-to-day from here. He’s already started to feel better.”

From the sports-is-strange category: The Heat, which had only 10 players available Saturday, went to the All-Star break averaging 96 points per game, ahead of only Philadelphia. Without its two leading scorers, Miami scored 115 on Friday and 114 on Saturday.

One big reason for that: The Heat, with Dragic unshackled, is playing at a faster pace.

“I know this is fun and fans love to see this,” Spoelstra said. “I know our players like to do it.”

A night after reaching 30 points and double figures in rebounds for the first time since 2007, Deng was again active and efficient, closing 11 for 18 from the field.

He said the move to power forward “has been helpful,” especially because the Heat is allowing him to dribble the ball up the court. “We’re moving the ball,” Deng said. “Everyone is cutting. We’re playing fast.”

Dragic attempted 11 first-half shots — more than he ever had in his full calendar year with the Heat — and closed 9 for 20. Dragic even blocked a John Wall jumper.

“It’s really fun,” Dragic said of playing at a faster pace, a tempo he thrived in with Phoenix. “Everybody is loose, everybody is playing free-minded, trying to push the ball.”

Whiteside, meanwhile, has played so well off the bench that Spoelstra seemingly has little incentive to change that, at least for now. Even without starting, he went to halftime with a double-double (12 points, 14 boards).

Whiteside, who made 11 of 15 shots, entered ninth in the NBA in ESPN’s efficiency ratings, behind only eight All-Stars and sandwiched between No. 8 Chris Paul and No. 10 DeMarcus Cousins. Wade, at No. 30, and Bosh, at 33, are the next Heat players on that efficiency list.

“The next challenge I told him is the consistency,” Spoelstra said. “Hassan was fantastic doing all the little things.”

The Heat (31-24) moved to within one half game of Boston for third in the Eastern Conference.

TAX CONCERNS

The Heat did not make a push for the two prominent players released since the trade deadline: Milwaukee-bound Steve Novak and Dallas-bound David Lee.

The Heat stands only $213,000 below the luxury tax threshold and would climb back over the line if it fills either of its two open roster spots before the range of March 6-8 and keeps that player for the remainder of the season.

One option that would keep the Heat from paying a tax is signing one player the second week of March and then signing another at the end of the regular season, just before the playoffs.

Players who are in the NBA this season must be released by other teams by March 1 to be playoff eligible but can sign anytime until the end of the regular season.

The Heat would have interest in Joe Johnson if he’s bought out by Brooklyn, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Johnson will sign with the Cavaliers if he shakes free.

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