Hassan Whiteside, Heat continue torrid pace since All-Star break

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MIAMI -- When it comes to Hassan Whiteside hype, Dwyane Wade is biased.

But Tony Brown is not.

Still, the respective praise from the Miami Heat star guard and the Brooklyn Nets interim coach converged Monday at the intersection of Whiteside's breakthrough NBA season. The dominant Heat center continued his post All-Star break surge with a career-high 27 points in Monday's 110-99 win over the Nets.

After the game, Whiteside summoned a group of reporters and TV cameramen around his locker so that he could show off the new, custom-made athletic sandals Wade gave him as a gift. Whiteside's pair had the word "Agent" inscribed on the front of one shoe and "Block" on the other, which represents one of many nicknames the NBA's leader in blocked shots is accumulating these days.

The moment essentially served as the launch of Whiteside's unofficial public campaign for the NBA's defensive player of the year award. A few lockers away, Wade provided the rallying cry.

"He's going to different levels that a lot of people haven't seen," Wade said of Whiteside, whose 237 blocked shots this season are nearly 80 more than the second-highest total. "That defensive player of the year conversation needs to be had. His impact on the game is that big. I'm happy for the way he's approached it. He's getting better and better and better with his maturity. And his basketball is really going to another level. In my eyes, looking around the league, he's the defensive player of the year."

Whiteside's defense remained the focal point around the team, even on a night when he finished with just one block and struggled at times in his matchup with Nets center Brook Lopez, who countered with a team-high 26 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the field but also had four turnovers. But it was Whiteside's impact on the other side of the ball that more strongly resonated for the Heat (43-30), who have scored at least 100 points in 13 of their past 14 games and are 14-6 since the All-Star break.

A major component of Miami's recent success has been Whiteside's spike in production, which culminated Monday with the athletic 7-footer connecting on all seven of his shots from the field and scoring 15 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. Most of Whiteside's baskets came on lob dunks, of which he has totaled 10 in the past two games.

In his 18 games since the All-Star break, Whiteside is averaging 18 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks while shooting 60.5 percent from the field in 30.6 minutes -- all off the bench. He started 40 games before he suffered a left hip injury in a Jan. 20 loss in Washington, but has since settled in as a reserve, although Whiteside often plays twice as many minutes as current starting center Amar'e Stoudemire.

Because he will finish the season having started more games than he has come off the bench, Whiteside won't be eligible for the NBA's sixth man of the year award. But with Wade leading the charge, Whiteside should draw strong consideration for defensive player of the year in addition to the NBA's All-Defense team and possibly even the league's most improved player recognition.

After earning $999,000 in his second and final season under contract with the Heat, Whiteside will enter free agency in July and could command a maximum four-year deal worth nearly $100 million. Prior to last season, Whiteside was out of the league and playing pick-up basketball in his native North Carolina.

"I'd like to be his agent right now," said Brown, the Nets coach. "He's unbelievably gifted. He makes tough shots and finishes around the basket; (something) that you just don't see a lot of guys do. He's been playing great. For whatever reason, they like him coming off the bench. Whenever he's on the floor, he's a threat because of his size, length, ability to finish at the rim and, obviously, shot-blocking."

Whiteside's skills are evident, but Heat team members and executives appreciate the growth in professionalism and maturity they've seen in his two seasons in Miami. Last week, Heat president Pat Riley referred to Whiteside's rapid development these past two seasons as a "phenomenon" he hasn't seen in 50 years around the NBA.

Whiteside was simply thrilled Monday night for a fresh pair of comfortable footwear.

"D-Wade, he just doesn't give lobs, he gives gifts," Whiteside said as held the shoes high for everyone to see. "Long live D-Wade -- an amazing teammate. I love that man. That's my guy."

Wade believes Whiteside deserves all the praise and production he's getting right now, largely because of the work he has put in behind the scenes to expand his game and embrace a challenging role.

"Our coaching staff, they work with him on what is needed," Wade said of Whiteside. "He's not always going to be perfect. But you can see he wants to be great. That's the big thing about him. It's like Christmas morning when you get a gift like that. It's very unexpected. He's being coached. And now, he's allowing our coaches to coach him. When he first came here, I don't know if he'd been coached before with responsibilities. And now, he's taking that straight on."