It was a January to remember for Hassan Whiteside.
After toiling away in Lebanon, China and the D-League for two years, the 25-year-old center became one of the NBA’s most inspirational comeback stories of the season when he forced his way not only into the Heat’s starting lineup, but also the franchise’s record book.
Whiteside finished the month shooting 67 percent from the field, which is the second highest individual field-goal percentage for a month in team history. Shaquille O’Neal shot 68 percent in April 2006.
“Shaq’s a beast,” Whiteside said. “He’s one of the best centers ever and he was just so dominant. It’s an honor to be even mentioned with him.”
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It was a beastly month on offense for Whiteside, a player the Heat signed in November to help shore up the team’s defense.
Given a chance, Whiteside did much more than that, though.
He averaged 13.0 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game in January and set the team record for blocks in a game (12) against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 25. Most impressively, he averaged a double-double while playing just 23.6 minutes per game.
It all made for the NBA’s most unlikely breakout by a player since Jeremy Lin’s magical run with the New York Knicks during the 2011-12 season.
On proving wrong people who thought he wasn’t good enough to play in the NBA, Whiteside quipped on Sunday in Boston, “That was the plan.”
He added to that plan against the Celtics, scoring 20 points to go along with eight rebounds and three blocks.
“The most important thing through all of this, and we’re happy for him, obviously, anybody that has been where he has been and then to be able to get back into the league and find some success, it’s hard not to root for somebody like that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
“The most important thing now is for him to sustain that and the things that we talk about are the work ethic and the program that we have set every single day for him and he has been good about embracing that.”
Heat forward Luol Deng is questionable for Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Pistons. Deng, who has a strained calf, was a game-time scratch against the Celtics. He has missed three consecutive games with the injury.
“He has to be cleared. He still feels a little bit of something,” Spoelstra said.
“You look around the league right now with strains that could turn a lot worse if you don’t take care of it fully, 100 percent. So, he’s getting closer.”
Dwyane Wade missed his second game in a row with a hamstring injury. He is not traveling with the team, but could join the Heat during the middle of its road trip.
The Heat had plans to remain in Boston after the game and watch the Super Bowl, but those plans changed when forecasters predicated a snowstorm for late Sunday night.
The forecast called for a foot of snow, so instead of staying over in Boston an extra day, the team flew to Detroit immediately after the game.
Needless to say, the players and coaches weren’t happy about the decision.
“Good thing I didn’t make any plans,” forward Chris Bosh said. “Snowstorm, yeah, you don’t want to get snowed in. Once they told us what’s going, it was like, ‘There goes our little party.’ Watch the second half, hopefully, and have some fun, hopefully.”
Spoelstra was asked which team he was rooting for to win the Super Bowl. He answered by gesturing to a support staffer, who handed him a book by Seattle Seahakws coach Pete Carroll.
“Want to read it?” he asked.