Most centers wouldn’t find much to like about in the way the Miami Heat played a fast-paced, up-and-down style in their first two games after the All-Star break.
But as Hassan Whiteside has been saying for a while now, he’s different.
“I like it. It [doesn’t] bother me at all,” the Heat’s 7-foot, 265-pound shot-swatting center said Monday after morning shootaround. “That just means more points, more blocks, more rebounds for everybody. When there’s more points, there’s more excitement, more cheers, more wins.”
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Whiteside said the fast pace in Saturday’s blowout win over the Wizards gave him an advantage offensively in the paint “especially with lob passes” and helped lead to his big statistical night with 25 points, 23 rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes.
Teammates Luol Deng and Goran Dragic said Whiteside isn’t built like other centers. So, playing fast with Whiteside in the middle can present huge challenges for opposing defense.
“Hassan is not a robot out there,” Deng said. “He’s not a slow big. He can move. He’s got good hands. He’s getting better at setting screens. The way he played last game people can argue — because of the pace of the game — other bigs can’t really keep up with him.”
On Monday night against the Pacers, Whiteside was once again summoned off the bench midway through the first quarter. Whiteside, who hasn’t started for Miami since Jan. 20 at Washington, said coming off the bench doesn’t bother him. He just wants to remain productive.
“I’m just out there to try to produce and play the way I play,” Whiteside said. “Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, I just try to add value to the team.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said his ultimate goal is to get the most out of everyone on his roster, not just Whiteside. But he also said Whiteside’s energy and attitude off the bench is “a great boost” when he plays the way he did Saturday.
The Heat is 22-18 when Whiteside starts this season. He has averaged 12.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.9 blocks in roughly 28.9 minutes as a starter and has gone minus-17 collectively.
Off the bench, he has been even a little more productive (13.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.7 blocks) in fewer minutes (23.8) and has a better plus/minus rating (plus-6). Miami entered the day 3-3 with Whiteside coming off the bench.
“It’s a tough decision to make,” Dragic said of keeping Whiteside on the bench. “But if you look at it like [he’s helping us more off the bench], most of the games he’s [coming in] against the second unit and the second units don’t have such a dominant big guy [to guard him]. He’s taking advantage of that. He’s putting up big numbers and he helps us.”
After missing the first two games after the All-Star Break and seeing his teammates average 114.5 points in a pair of wins over the Hawks and Wizards, Dwyane Wade returned to the Heat’s starting lineup Monday against the Pacers.
“It’s been fun to watch,” Wade said before the game. “With the defense those guys have been playing, getting out [and running], it’s been allowing people to be free of the mind and just play. I love to see those guys get those opportunities and really seize it when I’m sure a lot of people didn’t think they could.”
Wade, who once ran up and down the court when LeBron James was his teammate, said he has no problem playing that up-and-down style again — even if some don’t think he can.
“What I am is a safety valve on this team,” Wade said. “That’s why they pay me the big bucks. But outside of that, I want my guys to be aggressive. I want them to get out [and run]. I want them to go. I want Goran Dragic to be Goran Dragic. I love it. If that’s not going, if we’re not getting stops, then you’ve got the old safety valve.”