Despite his numbers, Heat’s Hassan Whiteside buoyed by teammates and coaches: ‘They say I’m playing well’

The 76ers’ Ben Simmons goes up for a shot against Miami’s Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside during the second quarter of Monday’s Game 2 in Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

MIAMI – Hassan Whiteside was asked how badly he wants Joel Embiid to play in Thursday’s Game 3 of the Heat’s opening-round series with Philadelphia.

After a long pause, the 7-footer finally answered.

“Ah, man, I don’t even want to speak on that,” the Heat’s center said.

The series is even and Embiid still has not played, having missed the first two games (along with the final eight of the regular season) because of a fractured orbital bone. And the 76ers are not saying if he will be ready for Thursday’s Game 3 at AmericanAirlines Arena (7 p.m.) although he is listed as doubtful.

But some will argue that Whiteside also has been a no-show with six points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes, although coach Erik Spoelstra continues to keep his big man’s spirits buoyed.

“His minutes were impactful,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside’s 18 minutes in Miami’s 113-103 Game 2 win. “That’s what the playoffs are about. It’s not about all the narratives that are out there, it’s about impacting the minutes you’re playing, helping your team win. And he did that. You felt his presence. …  We can build on that.”

When asked what he wants to see from his $98-million man going forward, Spoelstra said: “Activity, activity, activity. Force, force, force. Both those things at the rim.”

Whiteside has handled the reduction in minutes much better than he did a month ago when his profanity-laced outburst cost him an undisclosed fine from the team. He said all the right things Tuesday after the Heat’s practice and film session.

“The guys inside this locker room and on this staff they say I’m playing well … and coach (is) saying I’ve been playing well.” Whiteside said. “That’s all I really care about, my coach and my team.”

The Sixers have taken Whiteside out of the game offensively by packing the pack.

“It’s tough but I don’t get caught up in my scoring,” Whiteside said. “People that know basketball they wouldn’t get caught up in that either. If there’s four guys coming into the paint just kick it out to the guy that is open. I just care really about winning.”

With Embiid out, the matchups are not in Whiteside’s favor.  One of Whiteside’s best games this season was the final game of the season series between the teams. Whiteside clearly out-played Embiid with 26 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Embiid had 17 points and seven rebounds and shot 5 of 18.

Sixers coach Brett Brown started Ersan Ilyasova, an outside shooting power forward, in the second half of Game 1 and to start in Game 2, replacing Amir Johnson, who is a more traditional center. Spoelstra pulled Whiteside a little more than four minutes into the second half of Game 1. Whiteside never returned, logging just 15 minutes for the game.

Spoelstra left Whiteside on the court for more than eight minutes at the start of Game 2 but Ilyasova was out (Johnson in) 4:32 into the game.

“I think he understands that his moments, they’re going to come,” Goran Dragic said. “It’s a tough matchup because they’re playing with stretch fours all the time. We’re going to need Hassan. We know what he’s capable of doing. I think his head is in the right place. He’s talking to us. He looks involved in everything, so I think he’s going to be ready.”

Spoelstra said the Heat review the Embiid game plan “a little bit each day,” fully expecting all that work will pay off before the series ends.

“We anticipate he will be back in this series at some point,” Spoelstra said.

And when he does, perhaps then Whiteside finally can make his mark on this series.

“I’m ready for any opponent,” Whiteside said. “Every day I come in I prepare. I’m one of the better defenders in the league so I like to take pride in my defense.”

[Erik Spoelstra makes it clear Heat’s rebounding must improve vs. Sixers: ‘They’re burying us’]

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[Even after the Heat won Game 2 to take home-court advantage, the Sixers are still betting favorites to win the series]

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