MIAMI — The Miami Heat caught a break Tuesday when the NBA announced Hassan Whiteside would be fined but not suspended for his role in a skirmish involving Phoenix Suns center Alex Len on Monday night.
After a towering performance from Whiteside to lead the Heat down the stretch to an important 100-94 home victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, the team has to be overjoyed that he was even available to play.
His 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, four blocks and a career-high 25 rebounds only begin to tell the story of how he helped secure the victory.
Beyond practically swallowing up any rebound that came his way, he was the recipient of Dwyane Wade’s final two assists of the night by soaring above everyone else for an emphatic alley-oop slam dunk down the paint and following that up with a contested layup in traffic in the final minute of the game.
"With some players, sometimes you have that instant connection, and they showed that early on," head coach Erik Spoelstra said of the duo’s chemistry. "They’ve developed that connection, and it showed great coordination from Hassan to be able to catch that with one hand and find the rim."
The Lakers then came up empty with four missed field goals as Whiteside closed the game by securing a pair of rebounds in traffic and knocking down three free throws.
"I just knew it was time to win," Whiteside said. "We just stepped it up with the season now or never."
His 25 rebounds were the second most in franchise history behind Rony Seikaly’s 34-rebound performance in 1993, and it was his fourth game this season with at least 20 rebounds. He notched his third consecutive double-double and is averaging 19.7 rebounds during that stretch.
"He’s playing well," Lakers coach Byron Scott said. "You have to give him a lot of credit. He’s playing his butt off and doing a great job plugging up the paint for them, challenging shots, blocking shots and rebounding the ball on the offensive and defensive game."
Though the Lakers suffered with Whiteside escaping suspension, Wade was thrilled to have him in the fold, especially after being treated to yet another dominating game from his teammate.
"We didn’t know what was going to come back from the altercation, but we were happy we had him because we need to win these ball games," he said. "He is a big part of our success. We got very fortunate. He came out and put up an unbelievable performance tonight."
As Whiteside continues to show why he might be the biggest surprise of the season, Wade is a believer and a fan of his work ethic and his impact on the floor.
"He is what you call special," Wade said. "The fluke is over; he is for real about what he does. He protects the basket, he rebounds the ball very well and when he gets mad enough, he will dunk over everybody. He is very important to this team’s success."
Whiteside has let his emotions get the best of him this week, including picking up another technical foul for protesting after getting whacked across the face by Jordan Hill, but that only fuels the fire from within to prove why he belongs in the NBA, this time for good.
Although he is enjoying every bit of his success this season, he has not lost sight of where he came from just a short time ago practicing in a YMCA gym.
"I’m just blessed," he said in front of a large media group crowded in front of his locker. "A year ago I was talking about it, and now I’m showing people that I can do this. I went from talking about what I could do in the NBA and everybody laughing at me, to now you guys are here."