The familiarity between Hassan Whiteside and NBA officials is increasing, and that recognition contributed to the Heat center’s record-setting game on Sunday.
Whiteside picked up two fouls in seven minutes in the first half of the Heat’s 96-84 victory at United Center, but he played nearly 18 minutes in the second half, including all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter.
He finished with a triple-double and set a franchise record for blocks after speaking with officials about his defense before the start of the second half.
“I asked the refs what was I doing,” Whiteside said. “I know the guys are going to keep pump faking me, and so I told them they were just leaning their shoulders into me and the ref said he saw that.”
The communication helped, and it was one of the behind-the-scenes factors that contributed to Whiteside finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocks. After the game, Heat’s players and coach Erik Spoelstra congratulated Whiteside for breaking the team record in blocks, which is an almost sacred thing for a franchise that prides itself on toughness and defense.
Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning held the previous record with nine, and even Spoelstra was surprised to learn that Mourning never recorded 10 or more blocks in a game with the Heat.
Mourning had nine blocks in a game six times. Back in November, Whiteside looked Spoelstra in the eyes and told a coach who values rim protectors that he could be the Heat’s next Mourning. That and an impressive individual workout convinced the Heat to give Whiteside a chance with a struggling team.
Inconsistency remains a problem for the Heat, but this team, which has completely reinvented itself during the middle of the season, is getting better.
The Heat has won six of its past 10 games and is holding opponents to 87.8 points per game during the stretch. More than anything, Dwyane Wade said Whiteside has given the Heat confidence on the defensive end.
“Our guys are now committed to defending,” Spoelstra said. “We had a frank conversation around New Year’s, saying we needed to play defense if we were going to go anywhere.”
▪ Whiteside has 49 blocks in 18 games. His average of 2.5 blocks per game would rank second in the NBA behind only Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans if Whiteside had enough games to qualify for the NBA’s statistical rankings.
Wade often struggles in Chicago, but shot an efficient 10 of 18 from the field to finish with 26 points. It was the first time Wade had shot at least 50 percent from the field since Dec. 29. In his previous nine games before Sunday,
Wade was shooting 40.3 percent from the field. He was 6 of 9 in the fourth quarter against Chicago.
“More so than anything, I’ve been struggling with my shot lately and it’s always good to get the ball to go in,” Wade said.
“Once I hit a couple it felt normal again and my legs felt good. It was good to really step up in the fourth quarter when [Bosh] went out, when they felt like they could make a run and make some big shots to help keep them at bay.”