CHARLOTTE - No NBA player, with a minimum of 25 attempts, shot better late in close games than Hassan Whiteside did last season, when he went 19 for 25.
But entering Wednesday’s game in Charlotte, Whiteside has become almost an afterthought for the Heat offensively late in games in recent weeks.
He has taken only four of the Heat’s 58 "clutch" shots since March 1 – one of them the game-winning tip-in in Detroit last week. He didn’t take any “clutch” shots in the recent home losses to the Knicks and Nuggets.
The NBA defines "clutch" as the final five minutes of games with a margin of five points or fewer.
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Heat point guard Goran Dragic said Wednesday that he would like to get Whiteside more involved offensively late in games.
"We run actions that we usually run in the fourth quarter, sometimes pick and roll at the top, on the side," Dragic said after the team’s shootaround at Spectrum Center (formerly Time Warner Cable Arena). "We need to do a better job when we swing the ball, that second situation, so we don't wait for pick and roll, to look for Whitey inside because he's already inside the paint. He needs to seal the guy so we can get the ball inside to him easier."
In the hour after Sunday’s loss to Denver, Whiteside raised eyebrows when he said this about the Heat’s late-game execution:
"Guys are coming off the pick and roll trying to force a shot up against their centers, they're trying to force up one-on-three, instead of just kicking it to the corner, dribble handoff, keep running the offense, like we were doing the first three quarters."
On Wednesday, Whiteside said he wasn’t frustrated about not getting the ball, but merely frustrated about losing.
Regarding getting the ball more late in games, he said: "It can help the team. A lot of teams are trying to take that away. I don't get a lot of space a lot of times in late game situations because a lot of people are taking away the paint. Charlotte is all about taking away the paint. If it's there, I know my teammates will hit me."
For the season, Whiteside has made 15 of 29 shots in the clutch (51.7 percent) and 9 of 16 free throws (56.3) in 123 minutes.
But since March 1, his four field-goal attempts in 29 clutch minutes (he made only one of them, that Detroit winner), is sixth on the team behind James Johnson (3 for 14), injured Dion Waiters (5 for 10), Dragic (1 for 9), Tyler Johnson (2 for 9) and Rodney McGruder (2 for 5).
• Whiteside is still playing with 13 stitches in his right hand, an injury sustained two weeks ago against Phoenix.
"It will take a little longer to heal," he said. "It hurts a lot less. I don't have full function in dribbling."
• Whiteside enters the final week of the season as the league leader in rebounding average at 14.0 per game, barely ahead of Detroit’s Andre Drummond (13.9).
Leading the league "would mean a lot,” he said Wednesday. “It's great. Rebounding is a big part of defense. It shows you have to have a motor to get those rebounds. I've seen the Heat has never had an NBA rebound leader. I guess another record."
On Sunday, he came the first Heat player with 1000 rebounds in a season. "That's cool," he said. "That's another record. I'm just going to keep chalking them up."
BABBITT IN DOUBT
Forward Luke Babbitt, who left Sunday’s game with a hip flexor, did not participate in Wednesday’s shootaround, and Erik Spoelstra said he’s questionable for Wednesday’s game.
"It's all rest right now," Spoelstra said. "That's the most important thing - rest and treatment. He will be questionable for tonight. We didn't want to get him up and moving this morning. We are not even testing him this morning."
Babbitt said the injury is "pretty sore. Strained my hip flexor pretty good. Want to get us much treatment as possible the next few days. I want to be on this trip and see if I can get it healed up as quick as possible. At the very least, I'm happy to be here supporting my teammates. But there's a huge sense of urgency for me."
• Forward Josh McRoberts, out since December with a foot injury, participated in his first contact practice on Tuesday but did not travel with the team to Charlotte, and Spoelstra said it’s undetermined if he will play again this season.
There’s nothing new on Waiters, who remains in Miami rehabbing his sprained ankle.
• Former player Shane Battier, who joined the Heat in February as director of basketball development and analytics, is still learning the ropes and not at the point where he’s giving analytics reports to coaches.
"Right now he's just getting accustomed to everything; getting comfortable," Spoelstra said. "Shane and I have kept in touch since he finished playing. Not yet [analytics]. It will start off his role with scouting. We would love for that to grow as well."