Miami Heat

Hassan Whiteside dominating since All-Star break and could soon return to starting lineup

Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat reacts after dunking against the Golden State Warriors at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, February 24, 2016.
Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat reacts after dunking against the Golden State Warriors at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, February 24, 2016. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Dwyane Wade likes what he has seen from this Hassan Whiteside — the one who has come back from the All-Star break “like a monster,” set bone-crushing screens on league MVPs and “not cared about anything but being dominant when he’s on the basketball court.”

“When he’s focused like that, angry to be the best big man on the floor, he puts it together,” Wade said.

“I think we all can see it. We’ve all seen Hassan enough to know. … we’ve seen the good side since the break.”

Since Whiteside served a one-game suspension for throwing an elbow in the direction of Spurs center Boban Marjanovic in the Heat’s final game before the All-Star break, the Heat’s 7-foot center has been as dominant as any big man in the league.

He has averaged 21.7 points and an NBA-leading 18 rebounds and 3.3 blocks over a three-game stretch. His 60-plus points and 50-plus rebounds in three games off the bench is something that hasn’t been done in the NBA since Charles Barkley did it in 1986.

Spo came from tough beginnings like I did. We just talked about what he expects of me for the season and we had an understanding of each other. It was a great talk. We laughed and we had a good time.

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That’s something that could change Saturday when the Heat (32-25) visits the Boston Celtics (34-25). Whiteside said after Wednesday’s game coach Erik Spoelstra told him his role coming off the bench was not long-term, and Spoelstra said Friday he hadn’t decided if Amar’e Stoudemire would start Saturday in Boston.

Stoudemire, who has started 14 consecutive games for the Heat at center after Whiteside was injured in mid-January, was replaced by Whiteside at the start of the second half in Wednesday’s loss to the Warriors.

“We’re not going to over-think it at this point right now,” Spoelstra said when asked if there’s a benefit to bringing Whiteside’s energy off the bench for a Heat team with only 10 healthy players. “What we’ve all talked about is: Can we bring value to the team? I think Hassan has been bringing tremendous value to the team. It doesn’t matter whether he’s starting or off the bench, his minutes are so impactful.

“Defensively, our numbers go up. Offensively, he’s giving us a different dynamic with all the physicality, vertical spacing and offensive rebounding, secondary post-ups. I like the thought process of bringing value and continuing to build trust.”

Whiteside, for what it’s worth, has not lobbied to return to the starting lineup. Instead, he has echoed Spoelstra’s message of “bringing value to the team” and is focused on trying to make up for the loss of All-Star forward Chris Bosh.

Whiteside said he gained some clarity after he sat down with Spoelstra for “about an hour-and-30-minute conversation” when the Heat held its first practice after the All-Star break. Spoelstra was visibly upset after Whiteside’s ejection Feb. 9 against the Spurs. But he and Whiteside appear to have mended fences after their talk.

“I love Spo — Spo’s my guy,” Whiteside said. “Spo came from tough beginnings like I did. We just talked about what he expects of me for the season and we had an understanding of each other. It was a great talk. We laughed and we had a good time.”

Whiteside, who has been ejected three times in the 96 games with the Heat over the last season and a half, said he’s well aware of the reputation he has built and why people question his maturity. But he says its overblown.

“I got one or two technicals the whole season,” he said. “You guys are acting like I’m going around just beating people up and getting technicals and just going crazy. It was a mistake. I see why they did it. But the intent to hurt Boban wasn’t there.”

With a huge payday looming this summer — whether its from the Heat or another team — Whiteside said his intent through the rest of the regular season and playoffs is to remain “focused on just being the best Hassan Whiteside I can be, adding value to this great organization and trying to put some more banners up in the arena.”

The Heat's point guard talks about how the 7-footer has improved this season. Feb. 26, 2016.

Among Whiteside’s improvements since the break: better jump shooting and a better connection with point guard Goran Dragic.

After Dragic assisted Whiteside on only 22 baskets before the All-Star break (they played 39 games together), the two have already hooked up for six baskets since the break.

“We’re finally getting some chemistry and it feels good,” said Dragic, who was critical of Whiteside’s screening earlier in the season but said the center has gotten much better. “We were joking around the other day that we’re going slow. Every game it’s one lob and hopefully by the end of the season we get two or three lobs a game. That would be awesome.”

After making only 36.5 percent of his jump shots (35 of 96) before the break, Whiteside is 9 of 17 (52.9 percent) in his first three games since the break.

“Last year, it was ‘Oh my God, he’s taking it.’ Then he started hitting it,” Wade said. “So, now, it’s all about [when in the shot clock] to take it. That’s the one thing we’ve been working on. If we come down the court with 18 seconds left and you throw it to him because he’s open and he shoots it, that may not be the one.

“But you run your offense, you get it around, do different things, get it back to him and there’s seven seconds left that could be the one. We all know he has great touch to shoot.”

Saturday: Heat at Celtics

When, where: 3 p.m., TD Garden, Boston, Mass.

TV, radio: SUN; WAXY (790), WAQI (710, Spanish).

Series: Celtics lead 66-43

Scouting report: Reserve forward Udonis Haslem (allergic reaction) didn’t practice Friday but made the trip with his teammates to Boston. The Celtics won the first meeting in Miami 105-95 on Nov. 30 and lead the Heat by a game for third place in the Eastern Conference. Boston is 18-10 at home.

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