Despite loss, Hassan Whiteside’s resilience a positive sign for Heat

MIAMI — In a difficult NBA season for the Miami Heat filled with injuries and uneven play, the unearthing of promising young center Hassan Whiteside remains their biggest positive to date.

On Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat suffered their 14th loss in 22 home games in a 109-102 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks. To make matters worse, they also lost Dwyane Wade to a left hamstring injury midway through.

Any incremental improvements made seem to take a back seat time and again to factors beyond their control.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that after yet another frustrating night, Whiteside’s poor start actually qualified as a good sign for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

"The positive from tonight is that he struggled in the first half," Spoelstra said.

Whiteside is no longer the Heat’s hidden gem. The Bucks clearly scouted him beforehand and did their best to limit his impact from the start. Centers Zaza Pachulia and John Henson tried their best to box him out of the paint to limit his rebounding. They played him physically on defense to discourage passes to him and to throw off his shot. Milwaukee’s guards penetrated but avoided finishing at the rim to take away his blocking prowess.

"I could tell that they weren’t even looking at the basket," Whiteside said. "I had maybe one chance (to block a shot). They did a good job of scouting it and not attempting to lay it up."

He finished with four points on 1-of-6 shooting at the half but did manage to grab seven rebounds. Although he didn’t record a block, he stayed out of foul trouble — especially important given Chris Andersen was not able to play because of injuries to his back and elbow.

Heat vs. Bucks

"He was frustrated in the first half," Spoelstra said. "He wasn’t making the reads, (he was) out of position a few times, but he gathered himself and played much better and with more purpose (and with) more awareness in the second half. That’s what you want to see out of a player. How do you respond to tough times?"

It was clear from the start of the second half that Whiteside was playing with a different mindset. Maybe it was because Wade was out for the game by then. Maybe he still has that chip on his shoulder from the rest of the NBA telling him he wasn’t good enough to play in the league.

Whatever the case may be, his second-half totals of 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting as well as nine rebounds gave the Heat a chance to pull through at the end.

Though they fell short, Spoelstra was impressed with how his center responded to adversity.

"It’s usually the makeup of a good player, a guy that can bounce back from one quarter or one half to another half and leave it behind," he said.

Whiteside finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds to record his fifth double-double in his past nine games. He’s now scored in double figures in nine of his past ten games.

"In the first half, I missed a lot of easy tip-ins," Whiteside said. "My teammates just told me to just try to dunk it and go up strong on them. I was really worried about getting offensive fouls because guards, they like to fall over in this league. In the second half I went a lot more aggressive towards the basket."

If that’s what Whiteside has to do to make the kind of adjustments needed to dominate a game, then this one loss can perhaps provide the kind of lesson he can apply toward the rest of the season. Once he gets fully adjusted to the NBA game, no amount of good scouting and game planning may be able to truly stop him.

"I’m learning every day," he said. "I’m not perfect. It’s a learning experience."

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.