Hassan Whiteside led the Miami Heat to victory over the Bulls with a triple double off the bench which included twelve blocks, notable because almost no one notches a trip-dub with blocks or does it without being a starter. But with the Heat looks for answers all season as to how to move on after the departure of LeBron James, the question now must be asked: with the rise of Whiteside and the return of other players, can Miami contend in the East this season after all?
The Miami Heat’s ugly 20-24 record doesn’t paint a pretty picture. But the rise of Hassan Whiteside isn’t the only thing going right for the defending Eastern Conference champions of late. Nearly all of its core players missed time in the first half of the season due to injury or illness, masking the fact that with LeBron gone, other veterans like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are having their best seasons in years. Throw in the fact that Luol Deng is finally finding his place in the Heat ecosystem, and Chris Andersen is back from injury, and it starts to look like a team which can be dangerous if it makes the postseason.
In fact, the lack of a dynamic big man like Hassan Whiteside was the one thing which kept the LeBron-era Miami Heat from climbing to even greater heights, as the team tried to work around not having a true center in a hit-and-miss fashion. But with Whiteside’s game evolving quickly enough that he’ll be a full time starter by season’s end, one has to look at a Wade-Bosh-Deng-Whiteside-Chalmers starting lineup as one which is rich in postseason experience and championship caliber.
In contrast, LeBron’s Cavaliers are looking more like a one-man band with a bunch of ancillary parts that don’t fit right as the season goes on. Throw in the Hawks lack of playoff experience and the fact that Hassan Whiteside just finished destroying the Bulls, and one has to at least ask the question of whether the Miami Heat just might be dangerous enough in the playoffs to get back to the NBA Finals. And that’s a question that no one was even considering when the season began.