Miami Heat

Hassan Whiteside’s move to the starting lineup leaves Miami Heat rotations in flux

With Hassan Whiteside, right, moving into the starting lineup, Amar’e Stoudemire finds himself back on the bench unsure of his role as the Heat head toward the playoffs
With Hassan Whiteside, right, moving into the starting lineup, Amar’e Stoudemire finds himself back on the bench unsure of his role as the Heat head toward the playoffs AP

Amar’e Stoudemire doesn’t need anybody to remind him he’s posted the third-best defensive efficiency numbers for the Miami Heat since the All-Star break — right behind Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow.

Nor does Stoudemire need to be told that when he was part of Miami’s starting lineup alongside Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Joe Johnson and Luol Deng before Sunday, the Heat was 12-4 and that group was averaging 28.5 points per 12 1/2 minutes on the floor — more than any other lineup.

“We’d been winning pretty well,” Stoudemire said Monday after practice.

Still, coach Erik Spoelstra felt it was time Sunday to change things up. He put Hassan Whiteside and his team-leading 41 double-doubles and NBA-leading 3.7 blocks back into the starting unit.

It wasn’t a move Stoudemire necessarily had a problem with.

“Hassan has been playing phenomenal basketball,” he said. “For him to be a starter, I can respect that.”

But Stoudemire wants to be a part of the playoff run that’s ahead, and it’s unclear exactly how Spoelstra will juggle his rotations moving forward. Sunday, while Stoudemire sat out for the first time since Jan. 13 (a run of 40 games that included 36 consecutive starts), Josh McRoberts got the bulk of the minutes (20) at center when Whiteside wasn’t on the floor.

In the two months after the All-Star break and in the time after Johnson signed, the Heat (47-33) had started to formulate a solid eight-man rotation.

Stoudemire would run with the starters for between 15 and 20 minutes, and Whiteside would come off the bench with rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson and team up with Dragic and Deng to form the Heat’s second-most used and successful lineup since the break.

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That “bench mob” was a combined plus-26 in 187 minutes together with Deng and Dragic, and plus-22 in the 90 minutes the young trio teamed up with Johnson and Wade.

Now, as the Heat prepares to face the Pistons and Celtics on Tuesday and Wednesday (with Atlanta’s loss to Cleveland, Monday, Miami can climb as high as the No. 3 seed in the East), Spoelstra said “everybody is in the rotation.”

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That includes McRoberts, Gerald Green and potentially veteran free agent swingman Dorell Wright once the Heat make his signing official. Stoudemire also remains in that group.

“Amar’e was [brought] here to bring us great experience,” Spoelstra said. “And I fully plan on using that.”

It’s all ultimately going to depend on matchups. On Sunday, Spoelstra said he went with McRoberts so he could match up with Orlando’s speedy 7-footer Jason Smith, who takes only 19.6 percent of his shots from 10 feet in.

Against the Celtics, Hawks or Hornets in the playoffs, Stoudemire might be a better defensive matchup with Charlotte’s Cody Zeller, Al Jefferson and Frank Kaminsky, Boston’s Tyler Zeller and Atlanta’s Tiago Splitter, who put up more than 50 percent of their shots from 10 feet in.

“Being a starter to then not playing at all — it’s not easy to deal with,” Stoudemire said. “So, teammates have been talking with me, just trying to keep me afloat. I’ve been training and working hard. I got a lift in here earlier, extra work with [assistant coach] Juwan [Howard] and Hassan in the post. I’m doing everything I can to stay motivated, stay positive.”

The new speed unit on Sunday that featured McRoberts with Deng, Dragic, Richardson and Winslow produced 16 points and five assists in five minutes together and was plus-3 on the court.

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That lineup was the third-most used Sunday behind Deng, Dragic, Green, McRoberts and Richardson, who spent nine minutes together on the floor (mostly in garbage time in the fourth quarter), scored 21 points, but was minus-3 on the court.

“When J-Mac is on the floor, you have the J-Mac effect — everyone is moving because you know he’s a great passer,” Deng said. “I thought [Sunday] it took Orlando by surprise.”

Said Wade of the new second unit: “We haven’t seen it much so there’s going to be some trial error. But as we get into the playoffs, I think that’s the kind of unit that if they’re playing well, you let them keep going. If it isn’t working right, then we probably make some quick adjustments. We’ll have to see how it goes.”

▪ Winslow (sprained left ankle) was listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game in Detroit. But the rookie did go through some light shooting drills Monday and said he would like to play if cleared.

“I woke up and it took me a little while to get out of bed, but once I got up, started walking around, it started to warm up,” Winslow said. “There’s still pain. It’s still swollen. But I can play on it I feel like.”

Tuesday: Heat at Pistons

When/where: 7:30 p.m., The Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit.

TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WRTO 98.3 FM (Spanish).

Series: Heat lead 52-48

Scouting report: The Heat beat Detroit 107-89 on April 5 after dropping the first two regular-season meetings, including a 23-point loss in Detroit on Nov. 25. Detroit, which clinched a playoff spot and will face Toronto or Cleveland in the first round, has won nine of its past 12 games and has been off since last Friday’s win at home over Washington.