From a national perspective, Thursday night began and ended the same way for the Heat, with TNT's Charles Barkley bashing Hassan Whiteside before and after the 76ers’ Game 3 win against the Heat that gave Philadelphia a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
What happened in between Barkley's remarks Thursday was even more discouraging for Whiteside, who has managed just 11 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in 41 combined minutes during three games in this playoff series while committing seven turnovers and nine fouls.
And with Saturday's Game 4 looming, Whiteside, who’s active on social media, made clear he’s tuning out the torrent of criticism: “I don’t get caught up in the guys that can’t do my job but talk about my job.”
A night after Whiteside curiously attributed his struggles to lack of involvement on offense, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday “we’re not going to change the playbook, but certainly we’ll work to get Hassan active on both ends and where you feel him in the game. Part of that is my job. We had a film session today, and we were working on that. He’s going to do his part.”
After being dominated by Joel Embiid — who outscored him 23 to 5 and outrebounded him 7 to 2 — Whiteside explained his least productive three-game stretch of the season by asserting that the Heat coaching staff has changed his role in the offense.
“I feel our offense is a lot different,” Whiteside said late Thursday after closing with five points and two rebounds in 13 minutes. “I'm not as involved in as many dribble handoffs as I was and postups as I was in the regular season. That's what coach wants. Coach wants me to just be in the corner and set picks.”
Spoelstra declined to say Friday when asked directly if Whiteside’s comments were accurate. “I’m not going to get into that,” he said.
Goran Dragic shrugged off a question about getting Whiteside more shots, saying: "It's tough. Twelve minutes, four fouls. How can he get more shots?"
Whiteside, responding to an entirely unrelated question, again said Friday that “coach wants me to be more of a spacer” but added “Coach Spo, I’m doing the best for him and he’s happy. He’s got a great scheme.”
Tyler Johnson said the 76ers are making it very difficult to get Whiteside involved offensively.
“We definitely want him to be more assertive,” Johnson said. “With the way they pack guys into the paint, it’s going to be a little bit difficult to throw the ball down low and for him to go to work. They’re just packing the paint, throwing four, sometimes five guys in there. There’s always three in the paint. I don’t think it’s a matter of him going in the block and demanding the basketball.”
But… “when you have [Ersan Ilyasova] on you, it’s punishing them on the offensive glass and make it more of an advantage for us,” Johnson said.
Even Whiteside, during a brief interview session Friday, conceded this simply might not be his series: “D-Wade told me the other day, sometimes it’s other people’s games and sometimes it’s other people’s series. That just how we match up.”
Whiteside on Friday did not cite his desire for more playing time, something he mentioned again Thursday night. Foul trouble is one reason for limited minutes, but Whiteside said it shouldn’t be.
“It's frustrating sometimes when you're playing physical and coach wants you to play physical and then you get in foul trouble," Whiteside said. "I watched the film, other than the one I jumped for the pump fake, I didn't really see no other foul. It’s a lot different than when I was in the playoffs last time. Even coach Spo told us, this is the physicality of an Eastern Conference finals game."
Whiteside’s poor series was a topic of debate on TNT on Thursday.
Before the game, Barkley said Whiteside “isn't consistent at all. The Heat is better without him. There's a reason he's on the bench. A coach doesn't [bench someone] for the hell of it."
Afterward, as TNT showed video of Spoelstra talking to Whiteside, Barkley cracked that Spoelstra was telling him: “Why the hell don’t you play hard all the time?”
Barkley said: “He has to take some responsibility” for his struggles.
TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal, who has a friendly relationship with Whiteside, said Whiteside “is not playing with any effort” but implored the Heat to “give the man some touches.”
The Heat has now been outscored by 93 points with Whiteside on the floor this season — worst on the team.
“They play better at times without Whiteside, but you can’t play without him [permanently],” TNT’s Kenny Smith said.
So what can Whiteside do to change this?
“I'm trying to figure that out right now,” he said late Thursday.
His teammates have been supportive.
“It’s not a situation where we’re feeling bad for him because we don’t want him to feel bad for himself,” Johnson said. “We know what he’s capable of and that’s the standard we continue to hold him to. As soon as it clicks, he’s a game-changer for our team. When a guy is going through something, what are you going to do? Put more pressure on him or continue to kick somebody? It seems counterproductive. For us, it’s to continue to encourage him.”
Embiid, asked Friday if he’s surprised by Whiteside’s struggles, had a succinct response: “I don’t care about him.”