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The other controversy Monday: Hassan Whiteside sitting entire fourth quarter

As Erik Spoelstra was howling at the officials Monday night, for missing a clear Bradley Beal travel on a pivotal possession, many Heat fans on social media were howling at the Heat coach.

How, they wondered, could Spoelstra have sat Hassan Whiteside for the game's final 14 minutes with the Wizards going extremely small, and Whiteside 7-for-7 in the game? And would have the result have been different, different than 114-103 Wizards, with Washington scoring the final 11 points of the game? 

Whiteside may have been wondering the same. He seemed lost in space during late huddles, biting or curling his lips, and he didn't stick around to speak with the media afterward. 

Assuming that might happen, I thought would be worthwhile to get the Wizards' perspective instead -- specifically their coach, Randy Wittman, and their journeyman wing, Jared Dudley, who played a lot of center at 6-foot-7. 

Did Wittman go small in part to get Whiteside off the floor?

"Well, I didn't have any other option, in truth," said Wittman, who was without frontcourt regulars Marcin Gortat and Nene. "And Duds does a good job of defending. I thought he fought (Chris) Bosh as good as he could. You know, we probably would have continued to do that. If they wanted to go big, we felt we'll let 'em post Whiteside. You know, that's something I don't think they want to do a whole lot the way they play. So we're making them do something they don't want to do." 

Some will read that as an indictment of Spoelstra. Why not just punch it inside? But couldn't it also be seen as a dare to go to Whiteside, whose post game -- especially his passing -- still requires some refinement? It's not as if Whiteside was killing the Wizards with his post play earlier. Six of his seven baskets were dunks off passes from Dwyane Wade (three assists) or Goran Dragic (three assists). He's becoming an elite relief option, when a guard can't get all the way to the rim, or that guard sees a lob as a better option than a shot. That doesn't make him a primary option, not yet. 

OK, now Dudley.

When's the last time he played that much center?

"You know what?" Dudley said. "Junior high. When I was in high school or college, you wanted to play the three/two. It was bad to be a tweener. Now people are looking for that. So I don't even look at myself as a three. I look at myself as a four. But to be able to go five, it's weird, but you do it right, it can be effective at times. And sometimes we have to do it a little too much, because of our situation. But even with Gortat coming back, it's not a bad thing to do it spot minutes every blue moon." 

When I suggested that Spoelstra left Whiteside on the bench in the fourth quarter out of the fear of chasing Dudley out to the arc, Dudley replied, "I bet."

Dudley explained that, with Josh McRoberts guarding him, and Wade guarding point guard Ramon Sessions, the Wizards got the Heat in a pick-and-roll situation, and Sessions made an open three-pointer. 

"So whoever has the mismatch with the big, we were gonna put them in pick-and-rolls," Dudley said. "And that's what we have to do with our team right now." 

Dudley said, as many have, that the NBA's current smallball trend started with the Heat's Big Three team, with LeBron James at power forward and Bosh at center. "And then the uniqueness of Draymond Green (in Golden State)," Dudley said. "(Stephen) Curry and the shooters have so much more space. And for us, it was obviously due to circumstances, but we have Otto (Porter) who can rebound pretty good for a three-man. And myself, I think I did a pretty good job on Bosh. If you have fours who can defend, otherwise it's gonna be closed curtains."

Dudley said if Whiteside had come back in the game, he would have fronted the Heat center, with teammates trapping if the ball went over the top. 

"But the hardest thing with someone like him is not the post-ups, it's the offensive rebounds," Dudley said. "Because you're helping on D-Wade, and the shot goes up, and then now I've got to find him, he's already down low. And it's hard for me to move him. Now I can't move him." 

For the record, Whiteside has played in 15 of the Heat's 19 fourth quarter, and his net rating is minus-1.7, which ranks second-worst among the nine most-used players, better than only Luol Deng. The latter, actually, probably would have played many of those fourth quarter minutes Monday, maybe even in place of Justise Winslow, who struggled.

The bigger picture conversation, one that I may address in an upcoming column, concerns the worth of a center like Whiteside in an NBA that continues to go the smallball route. Economically, the opportunity is increasing for someone like him. But stylistically, it may be shrinking. 

 

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