Heat ‘aired it out’ in team meeting to discuss 2-3 start, but Hassan Whiteside still ‘very doubtful’ for Monday’s game

MIAMI — After a 2-3 start to the season, the Heat are looking for answers.

That’s why Miami held a team meeting Sunday morning before practice to discuss its recent struggles. The goal is to avoid last season’s 2-8 start that put the Heat in a hole that not even a 30-11 second-half record was good enough to overcome.

“We had our discussions this morning,” said forward James Johnson, who is one of the Heat’s three team captains along with Goran Dragic and Udonis Haslem. “We aired it out this morning. A lot of people took heat. I think it was the best thing for us to do, even more important than film. That’s what this culture is about, that’s what we’re about — staring guys in the eyes, telling guys the truth and that’s how you show you really love somebody.”

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) looks for an open teammate past Miami Heat forward James Johnson, left, and guard Goran Dragic (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Miami. The Celtics defeated the Heat 96-90. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Heat forward Justise Winslow agrees.

“Guys were honest today,” Winslow said. “Just opening up and being vulnerable and letting it all out there, not holding anything in. It can go a long way in this league — that honesty and connection part.”

But if the Heat are going to snap their two-game losing skid in Monday’s home game against the Timberwolves (3-3), they will probably have to do it without center Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside is in danger of missing his fifth consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left knee, with coach Erik Spoelstra saying he’s “very doubtful” for Monday’s contest.

Although it looks like Whiteside won’t play against Minnesota, he continues to make progress. The 28-year-old went through “a full non-contact workout” Sunday, but the Heat still prefer to put players through at least one contact practice before bringing them back from injury.

“He certainly is making progress, that’s what we’re all encouraged about, just to see him down here,” Spoelstra said. “He’s working, he’s jumping, he’s running and hopefully there’s no pain tomorrow.”

Miami has posted a 2-2 record without its defensive anchor 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. The Heat also entered Sunday ranked 21st in the league with a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 106.7.

If Whiteside is not able to play Monday, the next opportunity for a return will come in Wednesday’s home game against the Bulls. With that contest marking the end of the Heat’s season-long six-game homestand, Wednesday is Whiteside’s final chance to make his return before the Heat embark on a season-long six-game road trip.

“Tremendous,” Johnson said when asked how much Whiteside’s absence impacts the Heat’s defense. “People can just get into the paint like that without having to worry about a premier shot-blocker, somebody who really alters their shot or changes the way you see attacking the bucket. We miss him a lot. But there are no excuses. We’re going to keep fighting through it and figure out ways to win without him.”

The level of frustration in the Heat’s locker room was high after Saturday’s loss to Boston when Dragic said: “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.”

But the tone was different Sunday after the Heat’s team meeting.

“I don’t think our concern level is worried right now,” Johnson said. “You know, I know we’re not last year’s team. That’s just the past. That’s not what we’re working toward, to be last year’s team. We want to be better than what we were last year. And that’s not even the beginning of the season. I’m talking about the second half, with all our success. We want to be better than that.”

Even Dragic offered a more even-keeled analysis of the Heat’s slow start Sunday.

“I’m not worried,” Dragic said. “But I just mentioned that of course nobody wants to have that start like we had last season. That’s why we addressed this so early and try to get back. We feel like everybody is on the same page now. We know what we need to do as long as we put some work in. That’s why we had this meeting.

“We just talked, open talk. It was nothing serious. It was just open yourself up with what you think. It’s good because everybody can share what their thoughts are. From there on, we can move forward.”

And Spoelstra doesn’t mind the emotion Heat players are showing just five games in. He actually prefers it.

“I love all the emotions that players go through,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t even care if it boils over. It means you care. And our guys in the locker room really care. This is not the type of start that our group wanted. You can’t guarantee anything in this league and that’s why you love competition.”

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