Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters asked Hassan Whiteside to set better screens. Message received … and fulfilled

MIAMI — In case anybody was wondering, Hassan Whiteside got the message.

Starting guards Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters spent the two days leading up to Wednesday’s game asking for better screens. Whiteside responded to their request by pointing the finger back at them after Tuesday’s practice, urging them to be patient when using his screens.

But they were all on the same page in Wednesday’s 104-98 win over the Celtics.

“Me and Dion were in the paint all night. I felt like Hassan was great,” Dragic said after the victory. “I even told him after the game. When he’s setting these kind of screens, it makes my job and Dion’s job so much easier because we have more time to create, to read the defense.”

 

The Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (21) celebrates after a 104-98 win against the Boston Celtics at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

Whiteside finished Wednesday’s game with eight points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. But those aren’t the numbers that tell the story.

Whiteside, who is averaging 2.4 screen assists per game, finished with five screen assists against Boston — one shy of his season-high of six that came in a win over the Jazz on Nov. 10. Wednesday’s impressive screening performance came just a few days after the Heat’s $98 million center recorded zero screen assists in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Pacers.

Screening is an important part of the Heat’s drive-and-kick offense, with Dragic and Waiters relying on solid screens to help give them space to get into the paint. During the 30-11 run over the final 41 games last season, Miami averaged 10.7 screen assists per game and Whiteside accounted for 3.6 of them.

“I would argue that this might have been Hassan’s best screening game,” coach Erik Spoelstra said after Wednesday’s win over Boston. “So you look at so many things that are deceptive about a box score. He has eight points and 10 rebounds, which is pretty pedestrian for him, and a minus-11 in a plus-minus and it doesn’t, at all, display the type of winning plays that he was making tonight.

“This is what we’re trying to help him with, to understand how to really impact winning in all facets, and that’s in practice, yesterday he had a very good practice, in shootaround, followed it up with a focused pregame. It’s not about the results. But I don’t see it as an accident. Those guys were able to get in the paint. They had some great screens from our bigs. K.O., he is one of the better screeners, anyway, in this league. That’s why it’s a symbiotic relationship. Guys can’t do it on their own.”

Dragic and Waiters benefited from Whiteside’s inspired screening performance Wednesday. The Heat’s starting backcourt combined to record 53 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists while committing just four turnovers against the Celtics.

Those 53 points are the second-most Dragic and Waiters have combined to score in a game since they began playing together last season. They teamed up to score 58 in a win over the Bucks on Jan. 21, 2017.

When Wednesday’s game was done, 21 of Dragic and Waiters’ combined 41 shots came from inside the paint.

“I really wanted to get them guys in the paint and they were hitting shots late so they played great,” Whiteside said. “Goran and Dion, great job.”

And Dragic and Waiters believe Whiteside did a great job setting screens. They’re all on the same page again.

“First and foremost, big shout out to Hassan Whiteside,” Waiters said. “Those screens, that’s how we preach to him all of the time. Whitey sometimes tries to come up there and get the roll. But most of the time if you’re not hitting the guys, it’s hard for us to really get into the paint because of how they’re playing us. Because they don’t want us to get the lob. He was coming up big. Then he was holding the screens, that allowed us to turn the corner, get downhill between us and the big.

“Big shout out to Whitey, man. And from here on out, I’m going to expect that every night and if you’re not I’m going to have to say something. Be mad at me. Call me all the names. If that is going to help us get wins, we need that. If he’s screening, man, he’s big, he’s so strong. After a while, man, guys are not going to want to keep going over screens.”

[Short-term memory helps Heat’s Mr. Clutch – Dion Waiters – sink Celtics in final three minutes]

[How intense were Heat’s practices leading up to win vs. Celtics? Dragic called them ‘toughest practices’ in his career]

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