Saturday night the Heat had one of those really grinding losses, in Brooklyn. It wasn’t quite mutually dissatisfactory, if only because the Nets aren’t tanking, and so are still positioned to enjoy victories, but it was for sure a game the Heat were supposed to win: Miami is now in the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference; the penalty for finishing 8th will be a first-round playoff series against the Raptors, who only have the second-best home record in the NBA. The reward for finishing 7th will be a series against the horribly depleted (but still feisty!) Boston Celtics.
The real strengths of the Miami Heat in 2018 are an excellent head coach and a deep glut of strong and athletic and versatile wings. Of the nine Heat lineups to have accrued a positive net rating over at least 50 total minutes of run on the season, six feature someone other than Hassan Whiteside at center, in no small part because more mobile centers tend to unlock the terrifying speed and two-way versatility at Erik Spoelstra’s disposal in ways that the lumbering Whiteside, for all of his rim-protecting prowess, simply cannot.
A consequence of that, though, is that Whiteside does not always play as many minutes as he would like. Saturday night, for instance, Whiteside played just 20 minutes, and none in either the fourth quarter or overtime. He hadn’t been bad, but the Heat were outscored during his minutes, and the Nets were rolling out some hilariously tiny lineups, featuring Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the nominal “bigs.” Whatever else Hassan Whiteside is, he is not especially interested in defending outside of the paint, and anyway he isn’t much good at it. But he is also very much not in favor or the Heat going small, as he made perfectly plain after the game. Per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
“It’s annoying. We shouldn’t. Why are we matching up? We’ve got one of the best centers in the league. Why are we matching up?
“A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They are going to use their strengths. It’s bullshit. It’s really bullshit, man. There are a lot of teams that can use a center. That’s one of them. That’s bullshit.”
Asked if he tried to discuss it with one of the coaches during the game, Whiteside said: “I don’t know if it’s because I’m on a minutes restriction. The minutes have been like that all year. It’s really frustrating. It’s been frustrating. It’s tough. I don’t know, man. It’s crazy. I don’t understand it.”
Asked if this has made him question his future with the Heat, Whiteside said: “I don’t know. Maybe.”
It’s worth noting, here, that the Heat went a disappointing 1-4 against the lowly Nets this season: in their lone win in the series, Whiteside didn’t play at all; he played 20 minutes and finished minus-3 in a 24-point loss on December 29; he played 32 minutes and finished minus-4 in a six-point loss on January 19. So Whiteside isn’t necessarily why the Heat struggle against the Nets, but there isn’t much evidence that they’re better suited to this match-up with him on the floor than off.
The Heat are gearing up for the playoffs, and jockeying for seeding, and this is an awkward time for the team to be faced with this level of discontent from one of their most important players, especially since both of their likely playoff opponents—the Celtics and Raptors—will space the floor and drag Whiteside out to the perimeter relentlessly. It will be very interesting to see how Spoelstra addresses it, and how Whiteside’s minutes are distributed the rest of the way.
Update: The Heat have reportedly fined Hassan Whiteside an undisclosed amount for this postgame rant.