Hassan Whiteside has played a key role on the best defensive team in the Eastern Conference.
That’s why it’s hard to imagine the Miami Heat parting ways with the shot-blocking center.
The trade winds, however, seem to be swirling as the visiting Heat try to win their seventh consecutive meeting with the offensively challenged Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.
Whiteside easily leads the NBA with 4.0 blocks per game — a mark that would surpass Mark Eaton’s 3.5 as the highest in league history. With the 7-footer guarding the rim, Miami leads the East in defensive scoring (93.6) and is near the top in defensive field-goal percentage (42.0).
Whiteside finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and three blocks as the Heat (14-9) held Atlanta to 39.3 percent shooting and 8 for 33 from 3-point range in Monday’s 100-88 road victory.
But because Whiteside is expected to be a max-level free agent next season, reports surfaced this week that he’s being shopped in potential trades involving Houston’s Dwight Howard and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins. Miami, however, insists there are no truth to the rumors.
The Heat expect to have Whiteside patrolling the middle as they try to win back-to-back road games for the first time. They swept all four meetings with the Nets (7-17) last season after winning the final two games in a second-round playoff series in 2014.
Dwyane Wade could bounce back after finishing with seven points on 3-of-16 shooting against the Hawks. He’s averaged 27.3 points in his last four meetings, including that postseason series.
Chris Bosh led the way against Atlanta with 24 points while hitting 4 of 6 from 3-point range and pulling down 10 rebounds. Gerald Green added 20 points and Luol Deng scored 18 with nine boards as Miami, 3-5 on the road, scored 100 away from home for the first time.
"We’ve got to bring this every game," Green said. "When the season ends, we want to be competing for a world championship."
The Heat hope to continue that production against a Brooklyn team that has given up an average of 104.7 points and a 47.6 field-goal percentage while dropping four of six. The Nets allowed Orlando to shoot 53.9 percent in Monday’s 105-82 home defeat.
They had reached 100 points in a season-best three straight games before finishing with a 38.3 field-goal percentage. Brooklyn ranks last in the league in 3-point percentage (30.7) and near the bottom in scoring (96.0), though the team is just ahead of Miami (95.8).
Jarrett Jack had 15 points and seven assists against the Magic, but Brook Lopez had 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting with only six rebounds. The 7-foot center has a tough matchup with Whiteside after averaging 10.7 points over his last three games.
"I kind of let us down and pulled us back," Lopez said. "I definitely need to be better."
Brooklyn, seeking to break even on this six-game homestand, has scored 89.2 per game on 42.3 percent shooting while dropping 21 of the past 26 meetings with Miami, including the postseason.
Heat guard Goran Dragic is expected to play despite having a tooth knocked out Monday. He’s averaged 19.6 points in his last five games against Brooklyn dating to his time with Phoenix.