Even though Hassan Whiteside’s production in terms of scoring, rebounding and blocks have decreased since the Miami Heat started its turnaround following an 11-30 start, his coach and teammates have been steadfast in pointing out how the 7-foot center has improved and been pivotal to the team’s 16-2 run over its last 18 games.
“You can't lose sight of the fact that in terms of games played and experience Hassan is still a young player,” coach Erik Spoelstra told Fox Sports Sun and reporters in Dallas before Monday’s game.
“What I love about him is he has an approach that he wants to get better. He wants to learn. He wants to really take the responsibility of impacting winning. He’s one of our best players and so you can get better during that. I think in the last six weeks he’s played the best winning basketball he’s ever played in a Miami Heat uniform. It’s not his best statistical stretch and he loves it.
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“He’s becoming a great teammate, he’s enjoying impacting winning and I don’t want to put a ceiling on that either. Hopefully it will be another two, three, four levels before the year is done.”
Through the Heat's first 41 games, Whiteside was averaging 17.5 points, 13.3 field goal attempts, shooting 55.4 percent from the field, 14.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. His plus/minus was -100, second-worst on the team beind Goran Dragic's -127.
Over the Heat's last 18 games, Whiteside is plus-95 (fifth-best on the team behind Dion Waiters +135, James Johnson +107, Wayne Ellington +104, Dragic +100) and he's averaging 14.7 points, 11.1 shots per game, 13.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
Dragic has said repeatedly Whiteside has become much better at defending pick-and-roll situations and his teammates have said it feels like he trusts them now to have his back rebounding, which frees him up to go out and deflect and block more shots.
“He’s the force in the paint,” Dragic said after Whiteside scored only two points in last Friday’s blowout win in Atlanta. “He means a lot, especially when we’re defending pick and roll. Most guards try to attack. When you see Whiteside down there and they’re not engaging that’s big.”
Saturday, Whiteside recorded the 100th double-double of his career in his first 194 career games. According to basketball-reference.com, there’s only been 17 other players since 1983-84 to record more double-doubles through their first 194 games. Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal tops the list with 151. Former fellow Heat center and Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning had 109 double-doubles through his first 194 career games.
REED ON THE MEND
Although it looked grim when Heat backup center was wheeled off the court in a stretcher in Saturday’s win over Indiana, Spoelstra sounded much more positive about Reed’s status moving forward on Monday.
Reed was diagnosed with right ankle bursitis and didn’t fly with the team to Dallas.
“It's an inflamed bursa sac so that’s probably the best news we could have gotten,” Spoelstra told reporters after shootaround Monday. “He’s getting treatment, already feeling better. The best news is no boot, no crutches. He’s already moving around doing therapy and rehab.
“It’s one of those spots – lower calf. If you’ve ever had a bursa sac and it gets aggravated it can feel pretty painful. But it’s good news on everybody’s front.”
▪ Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, a 13-time All-Star and former league MVP, went into Monday’s game 67 points shy of 30,000 for his career.
He’s got a fan in Spoelstra.
“When he’s playing anybody but us I like throwing the game on and seeing Nowitzki play because he's a winner,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a champion. At one time if you can ever say in this game I was the best on the planet and won a ring what else do you need to accomplish in this league? Our organization has incredible respect for him as a competitor. In the toughest, most pressure-filled moments he’s played his best. You have to tip your hat off to him. His game is timeless.”