Hassan Whiteside went through the first third of the season almost never playing in fourth quarters. Erik Spoelstra would often sit his center in the final period, instead electing to go small and worry about defense.
Sure, Whiteside has the flashy blocks and rebounding numbers, but the numbers say the Miami D has been significantly better with its anchor off the floor, which goes against conventional wisdom. Spoelstra may or may not be subscribing to those numbers. What we do know, though, is that—for whatever reason—there's been a chance of heart of late.
Whiteside is averaging 12.4 points, 11.0 rebounds and a league-leading 4.0 blocks per game on the season. Yet, opponents are still getting to the rim and finishing there with a higher efficiency when he's playing vs. when he's on the bench. It's still early enough in the season that those numbers can change, and the Heat need the best version of Whiteside if they want to contend to come out of the East, but Miami needs to pay attention to those numbers. So far, Spoelstra's actions say the Heat have done just that, but giving the 26-year-old a chance to close games in the middle of the season is probably worth doing, just to play around with scenarios as we inch closer to the end of the year.
Usually around the 6 minute mark, Spoelstra brings in his closer, Dwyane Wade (plus 31 in clutch situations, 14th in NBA) to bring the Heat home like he did again on Saturday night against the Magic.
The guys shooting the basketball in key situations — Bosh, Wade and now Green (plus 32 in clutch situations, 13th in NBA) — doesn't figure to change. What has in the past week is Whiteside's sudden heavy workload in the fourth.
In three of the Heat's last four games, Whiteside, ninth on the team through Miami's first 25 games in fourth quarter minutes, has played 11 minutes or more in the final period. Suddenly, the 7-foot center Spoelstra hasn't opted to use with the game on the line, is not only out there, but he's producing.
Saturday night against the Magic, he and Green played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and were part of a relatively new lineup Spoelstra has now gone with twice in the last week to open the fourth quarter. The others on it: Bosh, Winslow and third-string point guard Beno Udrih, who has been pressed into more duty with Johnson out.