Heat Mailbag: Could this be a career-defining series for Hassan Whiteside? Plus, a couple of Heat X-factors

Hassan Whiteside celebrates during a Heat victory at Dallas in January. (Photo Glenn James)

Time for another Miami Heat mailbag. … Playoff edition.

If you were not able to ask a question this time, send them along for future mailbags via Twitter to @tomdangelo44 and @Anthony_Chiang. You can also e-mail me at tdangelo@pbpost.com.

From @OS_KeepinItReal: Is this a make or break series for Whiteside?

Make or break could be underplaying this series for Hassan Whiteside. This could be career defining for the Heat’s 7-foot center.

Whiteside has had a difficult season on and off the court. He closed with averages 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and a .540 shooting percent, all his lowest in three seasons. His shooting percentage and blocks were career lows in any season in which he’s played more than 18 games. And then there was the recent profanity-laced outburst in which he complained about coach Erik Spoelstra adjusting when a team goes small, which mostly led to Whiteside not playing in the fourth quarter. He was fined an undisclosed amount by the team for that tirade.

But Whiteside can silence a lot of detractors with a strong series, especially against Philadelphia and a player who has become his nemesis, All-Star center Joel Embiid. Embiid has shot past Whiteside and will be first- or second-team All-NBA this season while Whiteside has fallen out of the league’s top 10 centers. Whiteside and Embiid have had their battles on the court and their beefs off the court. The two faced each other three times this season, the Heat winning two of those. Embiid did not play in the Sixers’ two-point win in Philadelphia in February. In the three head-to-head meetings Embiid averaged 19.0 points and 8.7 rebounds. Whiteside averaged 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. But one of Whiteside’s better games of the season was a Heat victory over the Sixers in early March when he had 26 points and 8 rebounds and held Embiid to 17 points and 7 rebounds on 5-of-18 shooting. Adding to the pressure on Whiteside is Embiid likely will not play in tonight’s Game 1, still recovering from facial surgery and still trying to adjust to wearing a protective mask.

The two also have gone at each other through social media and reporters. But Whiteside said Thursday he was going to do his “talking on the court.” Now is the time for that to happen. If Whiteside outplays Embiid and the Heat win the series, this will go a long way toward turning around the narrative on his game. If Whiteside cannot take advantage when Embiid is not in the lineup, then Embiid gets the better of the two and the Sixers win the series, it could hasten Whiteside’s departure from the Heat.

From @Shadow_Knight3: Other than Whiteside who is the X-factor that need to perform amazing during this series

I will go with two names. First, the Heat could use the Josh Richardson they saw in December when he was the team’s best player, took over late in games and was aggressive going to the basket. Richardson has played well lately but not at the level he was at four months ago.

Anthony Chiang mentioned Justise Winslow for one of the same reasons I am going with Richardson. Both players will see a lot of Ben Simmons and if they can harass the rookie point guard on the perimeter and keep him from getting to the basket that would go a long way toward the Heat possibly pulling off an upset in this series.

HEAT-SIXERS PLAYOFF STUFF

[Ben Simmons presents unique challenge for Heat’s defense. How will Miami defend him?]

[Heat ‘don’t mind’ taking on underdog role in playoff series vs. Sixers: ‘We’ve been underdogs the last two years’]

[All-Defense would be nice for Josh Richardson, but if not he’s not going to get ‘bent out of shape’ over it]

[Sixers coach Brett Brown says Joel Embiid will not play in Game 1 vs. Heat]

[If the regular season is any indication, the Heat-76ers playoff series will be close … very close]

[A closer look at the first-round matchup between the Heat and 76ers. Which team has the edge?]

[Heat on series with Sixers, the hottest team in the NBA: ‘Streaks are meant to be broken’]

[Here’s the schedule for the Heat-76ers first-round series]

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