Can Hassan Whiteside Stay Hot Versus Lakers?


Quick poll: How many of you expected that, in a game which includes two Hall-of-Fame shooting guards, the player that everyone is most interested in wasn’t even in the NBA over the last two years?

Not even Hassan Whiteside himself expected that.

The Heat face the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, continuing a road trip that started poorly but is giving Miami fans hope. The reason is Whiteside, whose 23 points and 16 rebounds versus the Clippers on Sunday has been one of the most surprising – and enjoyable – performances of the season.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are struggling, although at 12-26, they’re not as lowly as many expected this strange collection to be. Kobe Bryant is still the inefficient do-it-all that drives the team. But, while he averages 23 points per game, it’s on 20.8 field-goal attempts over that same span; and his 37.5 percent completion rate is mind-numbing. This is a player who’s going out on his own terms and simply doesn’t care about winning in any other fashion. Lakers coach Bryon Scott told reporters that Bryant is “feeling a whole lot better” after sitting out a blowout loss to the Trail Blazers on Sunday but he wasn’t confirmed to play.

L.A.’s starting lineup also includes guard Ronnie Price (a chucker of the highest order), forwards Ed Davis and Wesley Johnson, and big man Jordan Hill. Their notorious bench is led by Nick Young (overconfident and struggling with his shot), Miami resident Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, who started off the season as a starter and has been providing a spark as a reserve. The Lakers go pretty deep, sometimes bringing in Ryan Kelly and he newly-acquired Tarik Bladk, as well.

Still, for all of the Lakers’ obvious problems, they can’t be full discounted – if they were in the Eastern Conference, they very well could be competing for a postseason berth. They score about 101.4 points per game as a team (middle-of-the-pack at 15th in the NBA) so they’ll look to push the pace a bit faster than Miami likes. The Heat will have to limit fast-break opportunities to control the tempo.

And how better to control the speed than with Whiteside, who showed flashes of…well, brilliance, against the Clippers. He was a huge boost to Miami’s languishing offense, freeing up perimeter shooters by drawing multiple defenders and helping Miami swing the ball more effectively than they have in weeks. Sunday’s win may have been a pivotal point in the season or it could have just been a tease; ultimately, the small sample size is exciting but not very telling.

As AUCH writers discussed here, it’s important to see how Whiteside – and the team – continue to grow and develop chemistry. If the young center is to play a big part of Miami’s future, he’ll have to show more progress as time goes on. Teams will eventually adjust and he has to do the same. The Heat, finally healthy, must develop consistency and keep winning. While the Lakers aren’t the most challenging team, upcoming games against the Warriors (Wednesday) and Sacramento (Friday) will likely be more difficult. And with a number of teams climbing their way out of the East’s cellar, Miami’s tenuous grip on a playoff spot has to be defended on a nightly basis.

Check back with All U Can Heat for post-game grades, a full recap and analysis.

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