Push literally came to shove on Wednesday night as the final games of the regular season for the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets have literally become play-in games for the eighth berth in the Eastern Conference. A struggling Hassaan Whiteside had become frustrated after he was scoreless and in foul trouble in the first half in going 0-for-3 with five rebounds. With 9:23 remaining in the third quarter and the Heat holding onto a 61-58 advantage, Whiteside’s wingspan won out again as he took a rebound away from Zeller, who was obviously overmatched in the post. Whiteside, flailing, didn’t make contact with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who bounced back out of the way and fell as he was trying to get away from one of the 6-11 Marshall product’s right arms. Zeller came over to try to engage Whiteside, who was hit inexplicably with a technical foul while Zeller slated a common foul.
From there, the struggling Whiteside awakened as he went over top of Zeller in the paint. for three quick scores, two on dunks. Zeller then went at Whiteside on offense after each of the three plays. It was to no avail as Zeller had a dunk blocked back out of bounds to the sideline and made two tough attempts to score overtop of the 6-11 center. At that point, Whiteside stopped fouling and let the 7-foot-6 wingspan dominate. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra maintained that Whiteside was affecting the game, even with his first half struggles. “If coach Spo said I am impacting the game, then I am impacting the game,” said Whiteside, “Spo looks at me and tells me if I am not playing well; then he is the first to tell me; if I am playing well, he lets me know. After the game, Whiteside was asked if the push-and-shove ignited his game. His answer was, “What do you think?” He finished with 13 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks in playing a key role in leading the Heat to a 112-99 win that left the Hornets with three games to win and needing help in passing Miami, Detroit, and Indiana for that eighth spot. “He brought it and guys rallied around that effort,” said Spoelstra, “You could see it on his face that he was coming to compete. That is how far he has come. It doesn’t have to do with statistics. It is just about winning plays.” Whiteside’s awakening was a three backer demolition in just over a minute. It staked Miami to a 14-0 run as the Heat took a 75-59 lead with 5:29 remaining in the third quarter. Whiteside’s dominance complemented a record-setting Heat performance from the three-point line. In making 21-of-40 triples, the Heat set the franchise record for such makes with the 21. “I told him in the second half that we were out there at the three-point line and you are going to have to get rebounds,” commented Spoelstra, “I think he took that literally.” Goran Dragic and James Johnson were at the heart of that three-point barrages as Johnson made Six, Dragic, five, and Josh Richardson, four. Johnson finished with 33 points, his season high, as be had played with the Raptors for the previous four seasons. “My mindset is to win,” noted Johnson who started his first game of the season, “We have a great coaching staff and a great leader in Spo. We trust him to put us in positions to win. My teammates have my back and they wanted me to be comfortable in the position, so I went out there and rocked it from there.” Dragic is a steady presence that was inexplicably dealt away by the Phoenix Suns. He has led Miami in scoring all season with his 48 percent shooting percentage and 114 three-point shots which have garnered a 20.2 points per game average. “Guys were taking open shots with confidence,” analyzed Spoelstra, “That certainly doesn’t mean it is going to go in, but I would say the majority of the were assisted threes. Not all of them. Some were within the shot clock and a lot of them came off good ball movement, the right way to play.”