Miami Heat hopeful Hassan Whiteside will return from hip injury Thursday vs. Bulls

MIAMI — With the start of the playoffs just a few weeks away, it looks like the Heat are going to get their $98 million center back very soon.

After missing the past nine games with a strained left hip flexor, Whiteside went through his first live competitive work in Wednesday’s practice since suffering the injury. The Heat are hopeful their starting center will be able to play in Thursday’s home game against the Bulls, but rookie Bam Adebayo is expected to miss his second consecutive game with a sprained right ankle.

“I feel fine,” said Whiteside, who is listed as questionable for Thursday’s contest. “You know, it was just different being on the court, finally getting back to it. You know, I haven’t shot a basketball in a while, so it was a little different.”

Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (21) shoots as Philadelphia 76ers’ Amir Johnson (5) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 8, 2018, in Miami. The Heat won 108-99. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Whiteside said the pain in his hip is gone, but admitted he could still be limited by the injury because it makes it difficult to lift his leg. Miami has recorded a 5-4 record during Whiteside’s nine-game absence.

“The next box will be did he recover well enough from this workout to be able to go through [Thursday’s] shootaround and if he’s able to do that then we’ll get to the next one,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But I’ll just have to wait and see. He’ll have to be the first guy in the gym [Thursday] to make sure he preps for the shootaround physically. And I’ll be a happy guy if I walk up there and he’s taped and ready to go in shootaround because that means he’ll be able to participate.”

In the three-week span Whiteside has been out, he’s taken advantage of the Heat’s gym during his recovery. But Wednesday’s time on the basketball court is the step forward Miami was waiting for.

“He’s been on treadmills, AlterGs, he’s been on VersaClimber. He has been doing his lifting, he’s been biking like a Tour de France guy,” Spoelstra said. “He just needs to get more court time. He got that today, hopefully he’ll be able to get some tomorrow in shootaround and we’ll go from there.”

Whiteside has missed 28 games this season due to multiple issues  — 18 games because of two separate bone bruises on his left knee, one game because of a stomach illness and nine games with this hip injury. Miami has posted a 14-14 record with Whiteside out.

The last time Whiteside played was in the Heat’s win over the 76ers on March 8. It was one of the 28-year-old’s best performances of the season, as he finished with 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks in a matchup against Philadelphia center Joel Embiid.

With Whiteside and Adebayo unavailable in Tuesday’s win over the Cavaliers, Jordan Mickey started at center. Mickey was solid in their place, finishing with seven points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.

Whiteside is averaging 14.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 47 games this season, and could be back in his usual starting spot Thursday.

“He’s definitely close, whether that means tomorrow night or not — I don’t know,” Spoelstra said. “He was on the court today for the full hour. That’s a good sign for me.”

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