MIAMI — Goran Dragic was frustrated after Saturday’s loss to the Celtics, and he was honest.
“He’s our heart. You can see,” Dragic said of injured center Hassan Whiteside.
Whiteside missed his fourth consecutive game Saturday against the Celtics with a bone bruise in his left knee. Miami has posted a 2-2 record without its starting center and has struggled to stop teams from scoring in the paint with the Heat allowing the seventh-most paint points in the league at 48.8 per game this season.
“Everyone is going into the paint. His ability to stop people or just to change shots is huge,” Dragic said. “Then you know rebounding is a huge factor for us when he’s on the floor. Then when you get some stops, you can run more and I feel like that we’ll figure out those things when we get some stops and open up the transition game, get some easy buckets. Then it will be much easier like last year. Hopefully he’s coming back soon.”
The next opportunity for Whiteside to make his return will come in Monday’s home game against the Timberwolves. Whiteside’s participation, or lack thereof, in Sunday afternoon’s practice will help to show where he stands entering the fifth game of Miami’s season-long six-game homestand.
“We talk, but we don’t want to force him [to play] if he’s not OK,” Dragic said of Whiteside. “He’s good every day. He’s coming early, doing treatments. He’s with the team, talking a lot. That’s the only thing he can do right now, take care of his body, try to get better. And when the doctors or Jay [Sabol] say he’s got a green light, then he’ll be back.”
The Heat usually prefer to put players through at least one contact practice before bringing them back from injury.
“It will likely be that,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday when asked if Whiteside will need a full practice before making his return. “We’re going to be in constant communication as he rehabs and does treatment and starts to get back into the mix. That’s why we’re just continuing to say he’s day by day, because that’s what he is. It’s tough to make a prognosis of how long it would be.”
Friday was the first time Whiteside worked on the practice court in front of reporters. He was able go through some conditioning and court work drills, but he did not participate in the full practice.
Spoelstra did make sure to mention Saturday that there are ways to get Whiteside some basketball work without having a full contact practice.
“You know, every situation is different,”‘ Spoelstra said. “We’ve been through enough of these kind of situations. We have ways of being creative. It would be ideal to have a perfect five-on-five practice. If we don’t, I’m sure we can gather up some guys to get something done.”
If Whiteside is unable to return for Monday’s game against Minnesota, he will only have one more chance to come back before the start of Miami’s six-game road trip. The Heat will close out their homestand Wednesday against the Bulls.
“We need to bounce back,” Dragic said, with Saturday’s loss dropping the Heat to 2-3 this season. “I don’t want to have the [same] season as last year where it’s already late and we figure out things. We need to do it now because it’s important.”