Barry Jackson

Richardson out. And here are the changes with Whiteside that has Heat encouraged

Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside after Washington Wizards game

Miami Heat's Hassan Whiteside speaks to the media after the Miami Heat defeat the Washington Wizards at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Friday, January 4, 2019.
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Miami Heat's Hassan Whiteside speaks to the media after the Miami Heat defeat the Washington Wizards at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Friday, January 4, 2019.

Heat guard Josh Richardson, the team’s leading scorer, will miss Friday’s game in Detroit because of illness, coach Erik Spoelstra said 90 minutes before tipoff.

This will be only the second game Richardson has missed this season. He’s averaging 17.7 points, 4.0 assists and 3.9 rebounds and shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from three-point range.

Richardson and Wayne Ellington both missed shootaround on Friday with an illness, but Ellington will be available to play, Spoelstra said.

So will Tyler Johnson, who missed Thursday’s practice because of illness.

WHITESIDE GROWTH

The numbers, the ones that helped Hassan Whiteside earn the $98 million contract that runs through next season, aren’t much different from past years, with the Heat’s center ranking among the league leaders in rebounds (8th at 12.4) and blocks (third at 2.4).

But here’s what is different: If Whiteside feels any frustration about playing time that can vary dramatically one night to the next, he’s not expressing it. If he’s upset about sometimes sitting in the fourth quarter while Bam Adebayo plays instead, he’s not showing it. And if he wishes he had more shots per game — he’s 13th among centers in that category — he sure as heck isn’t complaining to reporters about it.

And that, as he nears his 30th birthday in June, represents perhaps the most encouraging aspect of his maturity. And it was a necessary change for a player who complained multiple times about playing time and his role last season, including one expletive-laced tirade that drew a substantial fine in late March.

This season? Not a peep. Aside from leaving the bench early to go the bathroom, there hasn’t been a single off-court incident to draw Heat ire.

“I think I’m just in a better place than what I was last year,” Whiteside said in a reflective moment this week. “Going through all the injuries and stuff, I was real frustrated with myself too, not being able to be there with my teammates, not being able to contribute like I wanted to. There was a lot of frustration with myself also, with the injuries. I’m just happy we’re winning. All the other stuff will come.”

His teammates have noticed changes.

“He’s putting the team first,” Udonis Haslem said.

Said Dwyane Wade on Friday: “Hassan has been working on himself. He’s got people around that help him. He’s just in a good place. Having the birth of his son [last month] was another thing that helped him, understanding responsibilities. He’s been great. Been great for us this year.”

Miami Heat's Hassan Whiteside speaks to the media after the Miami Heat defeat the Washington Wizards at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Friday, January 4, 2019.

Whiteside was angry last season that his minutes were reduced from 32.6 per game in 2016-17 to 25.3 — a byproduct of the acquisitions of Bam Adebayo in the draft and Kelly Olynyk in free agency. But his minutes this season are up only slightly, to 26 per game, still well below 2016-17.

That per-game minutes average ranks 20th among centers, behind the likes of Jarrett Allen and Enes Kanter — and not necessarily what you would expect for a player whose $24.4 million salary is tied for 27th highest in the league.

Though he has expressed interest in the past in expanding his offensive role, he’s just 15th in scoring among centers, with a 12.8 scoring average that would be his lowest since his first season in Miami (2014-15). And his 10.4 shots per game are also down from the past two seasons.

But Whiteside hasn’t made an issue of that, instead working to improve his free-throw shooting, which has plunged to 45.2.

“A lot of times when I voiced my frustration it was after a loss,” he pointed out. “I am never mad [if] I didn’t do something and we won. I’m a competitor. I want to win. That’s what I care about. All that other stuff will come. I averaged 18 and 15 in a season and we weren’t where we wanted to be at the end of that year. I want to be on a great winning team regardless of whatever happens.”

He also has worked to improve his screen setting — an area where coaches and teammates wanted improvement.

“It’s been better, and it still needs to get to another level,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The intention of getting guards open has been better.”

Heat center Hassan Whiteside speaks after Thursday’s practice about his struggles from the free-throw line.

Spoelstra likes the overall growth: “Every year, he’s becoming a better basketball player and learning how to become an ultimate winner. And he’s enjoying it more. That’s the whole thing that’s tough for players to really grasp. The more you breathe life into somebody else and enjoy somebody else’s success, whatever it is that you are searching for yourself, you usually end up getting because of that giving mentality.”

The five-hour June meeting with Spoelstra at a Miami hotel helped solidify a relationship that last year seemed on the verge of unraveling.

“Spo’s my guy,” Whiteside said. “We overcommunicate. We got an understanding. He wants to win. I want to win. We’re definitely in a better place.”

Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.


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