CHICAGO – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had three opportunities Wednesday to reveal that center Hassan Whiteside had a sprained ankle.
But when asked if everyone “worked” during the shoot around before the Heat’s game against the Nets he replied, “everybody worked today.” He never offered Whiteside was hobbled when meeting with the media 90 minutes before the game against the Nets. Then while dissecting Miami’s stunning rally from an 18-point deficit Spoelstra was asked about his lineups (Whiteside did not play the final 13:36) and he avoided any mention of a Whiteside injury.
But minutes later, while sitting at his locker with his right foot in a bucket of ice water and following his worst game of the season, Miami’s $98 million man said this:
“My ankle was bothering me before the game. I shouldn’t have played. I tried to play through it. Coach tried to call me back in the fourth quarter I told him I couldn’t go.
“I probably should have sat because I was hurting the team when I was out there. I tried to play through a sprained ankle. I probably shouldn’t have tried that.”
Whiteside scored seven points (just his eighth game this season in single digits) on 3-of-10 shooting, had one rebound (his previous low was eight). Whiteside also watched his man, Brook Lopez, torch the Heat early, scoring 16 points in the first 6:12 of the game. Whiteside then was one of four starters pulled less than two minutes into the third quarter, returned later in the quarter and was removed again about a minute later, after Nets reserve Quincy Acy scored five quick points.
Whiteside never returned and in a game in which Miami won by three, the Heat were outscored by 30 with Whiteside on the court.
“I just was searching for anything,” Spoelstra said about the shuffling lineups. “Any way we could get consistent stops and not just have to play taking the ball out of the basket. The game was moving quickly, the tide was turning fast. It wasn’t fair necessarily to everybody that I was taking out.”
Spoelstra praised Whiteside’s backup, Willie Reed, which is something he has done in the past when asked about Whiteside after he had played a lethargic game.
“Willie was terrific with his energy,” he said.
Reed contributed 24 solid minutes, scoring 14 points and grabbing four rebounds. Miami outscored Brooklyn by 34 points with Reed on the floor.
The question is if Spoelstra even knew (more accurately if Whiteside told anybody) before the game that the big man was ailing considering he was not listed on the Heat’s injury report. Although Spoelstra certainly knew following the game. Whiteside is on the injury report for Friday’s 8 p.m. game at the Bulls. He is listed as questionable.
The Heat are off today but Spoelstra certainly will be asked about Whiteside at first chance. The fact that the coach did not mention the injury, especially after the game when he could have further explained why Whiteside did not play the entire fourth quarter, indicates this could go deeper than just a sprained ankle.
Additionally, Whiteside’s quick offering of the injury may not play well inside the locker room.
Justise Winslow was grilled about his shaky outside shooting early in the season and never used the excuse that he had a sprained left wrist for about two weeks before being shut down.
And if anybody has reason to play the injury card it’s point guard Goran Dragic, who is thrown to the floor every game and has been seen this season with his foot in an ice bucket after playing with a swollen and discolored ankle, and his elbow and knee wrapped in ice following games.
Dragic played 39 minutes Wednesday and recorded 17 points, nine assists and nine rebounds. At one point in the second quarter he hit the floor so hard a thump could be heard throughout the Barclays Center. Dragic grimaced and grabbed his leg. He jumped up, ran down court to play defense and during the next lull he was rubbing the outside of his leg.
Whiteside said he suffered the injury during Monday’s win over the Warriors.
“I really didn’t feel it that much until the next day,” he said. “I really felt it a lot the next day. My ankle swelled up. I tried to play through it. I was hurting the team when I got out there. Wasn’t a good idea.
“I just told him in the fourth quarter, ‘Coach I can’t play anymore.’ It was hurting me too bad. We got great other guys. He put (James Johnson) in, Willie played a helluva game. I’m proud of those guys. Those guys benefited the team more than I could tonight.”