A set of back-to-back road games with Philadelphia and Detroit this weekend will offer Hassan Whiteside a chance to go toe-to-toe with two centers who have been given the All-Star acknowledgment that Whiteside would like for himself.
But it will be more personal when he faces the 76ers’ Joel Embiid on Friday than it will be when he matches up with the Pistons’ Andre Drummond on Saturday.
That’s because of what happened during a Heat-76ers preseason game on Oct. 13, and what followed after the game on social media.
The night began with Embiid chasing down Whiteside for a block, and Whiteside blocking an Embiid jumper.
Embiid then gestured to the Heat bench and told them to remove Whiteside from the game because Whiteside couldn’t guard him.
In the hours after the game, Whiteside responded to someone on social media who praised him for holding Embiid to 1-for-7 shooting, saying “the media won’t show that.”
Embiid saw that response and tweeted: “Dude they had to take your [butt] out or you would’ve fouled out in 5 min. … And we’re talking about Preseason, not regular season… #Softy.”
Then Embiid sent this tweet: “And keep caring about stats and not your team success … your +/- was [butt] @youngwhiteside #Softy.”
To which Whiteside responded to Embiid, on Twitter: “31 games in 3yrs Hopefully I get to see you regular season #SolarEclipse #EmbiidEclipse.”
Embiid, drafted third overall in 2014, missed his first two NBA seasons because of a foot injury, then played in only 31 games last season largely because of a meniscus tear in his left knee that sidelined him the final seven weeks.
He has played in 38 games this season, averaging 23.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
So what kind of terms are these guys on?
“Um, I don’t know,” Whiteside said. “I haven’t talked to Joel. I don’t know. It’s just another opponent.”
The October Twitter exchange wasn’t their first on social media.
Last season, Whiteside complained about Embiid’s campaign to get himself All-Star votes. Embiid then playfully tweeted a vote for Whiteside that generated more than 14,000 retweets, which counted as votes.
Embiid was voted a starter in this year’s All-Star Game. If Whiteside has a problem with that, he wasn’t saying this week.
“He does a great job of interacting with fans and fans love him,” Whiteside said. “He got like a cult following. They love him. It’s a big time following.”
Whiteside, in fact, will be matched against two All-Star centers on consecutive nights in Embiid and Detroit’s Andre Drummond.
Does that fuel him?
“It’s always a great matchup,” he said. “But I don’t get caught up into the matchup as much as winning. If a couple extra plays are there that will get us the win, that’s what I’m more concerned about.”
The Sixers, immersed in a long rebuilding program, had won only 19, 18, 10 and 28 games the past four years but are 24-24 this season and hold the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, thanks in part to excellent play by Embiid, Dario Saric and Ben Simmons.
On Saturday, the Heat faces a Pistons team trying to crack the East’s top eight and augmented by the acquisition of Blake Griffin in a Monday trade that sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, a first-round pick and other assets to the Clippers. Detroit, which recently lost eight in a row before beating Cleveland on Tuesday, stands ninth in the East.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who has final say on personnel matters, said he made the trade because “the hardest thing to do in this league is to get a proven star. If there were no risk involved, if Blake didn’t have any injury history, he wouldn’t be available. So we take the risk to get that high-level talent. The highest draft pick on our roster is 8. That’s rare in this league. Everybody’s got a top-three or -four pick somewhere on their roster, and we didn’t. The guy’s a five-time All-Star. He’s been an All-NBA guy, [one of] top 15 guys in the league. He’s only 28 years old.”
Griffin is averaging 22.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game but has played all 82 games only once, in 2010-11.
As expected, the Heat was granted a $5.5 million disabled player’s exception because of Dion Waiters’ season-ending ankle surgery.
The money can be used to acquire a player with an expiring contract or on a player who’s bought out. Players who have been in the NBA this season must be bought out by March 1 to be playoff eligible elsewhere.
But the money cannot be combined with another Heat player’s salary for trade purposes. In other words, the acquired player must be earning no more than $5.5 million.
And the Heat must open a roster spot if it chooses to add a player with that disabled player exception.