MIAMI — Hassan Whiteside was happy to see point guard Goran Dragic back on the court. Very happy.
In the two games Dragic missed last week with a strained left elbow, Whiteside averaged 9.5 points on 47.1 percent shooting. Whiteside is averaging 18.6 points per 36 minutes on 52.8 percent shooting without Dragic on the court this season.
With Dragic on the court, Whiteside is averaging 19.3 points per 36 minutes on 56.8 percent shooting. There isn’t much difference in Whiteside’s point production, but he is a more efficient player with Dragic running the offense.
Dragic’s ability to penetrate defenses to get into the paint makes the game easier for Whiteside. Monday’s 112-104 loss to the Celtics was proof, as Dragic fed Whiteside multiple alley-oop lobs and created open shots for the 7-footer to assist on nine of Whiteside’s 10 made baskets.
When it was over, Dragic recorded 17 assists Monday — the most assists he’s finished a game with as a member of the Heat and the second-highest single-game assist total of his NBA career.
“I missed it a lot especially with the way me and D-Wade did that a lot,” Whiteside said of his two-man game with Dragic. “But Goran got that. I told Goran don’t expect every team to just automatically take that away. Let’s see if they can jump up there with me. We put a shooter in that corner so they’ve got to choose.”
Before Dragic’s nine assists to Whiteside on Monday, he had assisted on 12 of Whiteside’s made baskets over the first 11 games they played together this season.
Whiteside is shooting 60.5 percent on passes from Dragic this season. He’s shooting 51.3 percent on passes from the rest of his teammates.
“That’s nothing new,” Dragic said of his connection with Whiteside. “Me and Whiteside, we worked last season and we have a good connection. When he sets a good screen then he helps me and most of the time the big man needs to stop the ball, so a lot of times he’s going to be open on that lob.”
The two-man game between Dragic and Whiteside became an effective part of the Heat’s offense in the middle of last season.
Whiteside made 22 baskets on assists from Dragic and shot 44.3 percent on passes from Dragic before the All-Star break last season. But those numbers went way up after the All-Star break, as Whiteside made 44 baskets on assists from Dragic and shot 64.5 percent on passes from Dragic.
“They’ve had that connection,” Erik Spoelstra said. “So that’s something we’ll start to build on when we go on the road.”