Hassan Whiteside's role with the Miami Heat through the first two games of the playoffs hasn't been what he and many were expecting.
Even following a regular season in which he went through a significant reduction in minutes played, in two playoff games, Whiteside, the Heat's highest-paid player, has played a total of 28 minutes (two fewer than rookie Bam Adebayo), taken six shots (he has made two), grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots.
There have been a few sleepless nights, Whiteside admits. And yet, still, he left the Heat's Game 2 victory Monday night in Philadelphia feeling better about himself after some encouraging words from coach Erik Spoelstra.
"Coach Spo [said], 'You're playing amazing,' " Whiteside said, "and that's the only personal opinion I really care about — if my coaching staff is telling me I'm playing amazing."
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With Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid (7-0, 250) still awaiting clearance to return from a fractured orbital bone near his left eye, Philadelphia has turned to 6-10, 235-pound Ersan Ilyasova, a career 36.6 percent three-point shooter, to play center at times in this series to create a mismatch for Whiteside. Although he played only 15 minutes in Game 2 in part because of foul trouble, the feeling after the game was that Whiteside did a much better job getting out to defend Philadelphia's shooters than he did in Game 1.
The NBA's statistical tracking system for Game 2 shows Whiteside spent 12 possessions guarding 6-10, 223-pound forward Dario Saric, 11 possessions against Sixers backup center Amir Johnson, and only two against Ilyasova. Saric finished 3 of 7 for six points against Whiteside, but 0 for 3 from three-point range. Johnson scored four points on 2 of 3 shooting against Whiteside, and Ilyasova didn't take a shot when Whiteside was guarding him. In all, the Sixers took five three-pointers with Whiteside guarding them and missed all five shots.
Of course, the Heat never signed Whiteside to chase shooters off the three-point line. They signed him to patrol the paint, and the Sixers have taken him out of there by stretching the floor with their shooters.
"Those guys were running me through all kinds of screens, getting me moving," he said. "They wanted to keep me out of the paint as much as possible. And I understand that when you've got such a big-time shot blocker ... that's how it is."
Still, it hasn't been easy for Whiteside to digest. After he played only 12 minutes in Game 1 and admitted he played poorly, Whiteside found it hard to sleep. A Game 2 win, though, made him feel better.
"I was tough on myself," he said. "I really wanted to come out here and make a bigger impact like I did last playoffs. But it didn't happen. At the end of the day, as long as we got the win, I can sleep well."
An opportunity to redeem himself moving forward is still there.
"D-Wade came up to me after the game and was like, 'It's not going to be everybody's night. It's going to be a different person every night.' And [Monday] it was his night. Game 3, who knows?
"Like I said, it's a long series. It's going to be different guys each game. Maybe it's me next game. Maybe it's not. I don't really care about all that. I just want to get the win."