What, exactly, is bothering Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside about his knee?
“Everything, man,” he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Ira Winderman. “Everything.”
I’m no doctor, but I’m going to assume that’s not good, not when it’s forcing Whiteside to sit out practices and the second night of back-to-backs a month after the Heat’s medical staff cleared him to return from a bone bruise on his left knee he suffered in a season-opening loss to the Orlando Magic.
“It’s really bothering me, man,” he added after sitting out the Heat’s 115-86 road loss to the New York Knicks. “We’re going to figure it out. We’re going to figure it out when we get back to Miami and figure out what’s wrong.”
“It has really been bothering me throughout the season. It had been bothering me since Orlando.”
That means the knee has been bothering Whiteside since he returned from a five-game absence to post 13 points and 14 rebounds in a win over the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 1. That kicked off a string of four games in six nights, culminating in a 1-for-9 shooting effort over 16 minutes of a blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors on the third game of an around-the-country six-game road trip.
There’s been plenty of solid outings in there, too, as Whiteside has notched eight double-doubles in 14 games since returning from the injury, including a monster 22-point, 16-rebound performance in a win over the Washington Wizards. It’s unclear how vocal Whiteside has been about the persistent pain with the Miami medical staff and trainer Jay Sabol, but the coaching staff has certainly been conscious of the need to manage their max contracted 7-footer’s health, limiting his consecutive work days.
But the past two days seem to have inflamed the issue, at least in the figurative sense. On Tuesday, he couldn’t keep up with stretch Cleveland Cavaliers big man Kevin Love, who torched the Heat for 38 points in a 108-97 win in Miami that featured Whiteside for only 19 minutes, and he sat out the next night in New York — his first rest day since returning from the knee injury at the start of the month.
“It’s the same pain that he’s been dealing virtually the last three weeks or month that he’s been back,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters, “and the days in between have been recovery days, so the back-to-back I anticipated he probably wouldn’t play [Wednesday].
“We’ll get back to Miami and reevaluate him [Thursday]. Jay will look at him and might have doc look at him. I don’t know necessarily right now if he’ll need to get an MRI. He’s already gotten one of those. This is part of the process. We anticipated this. It hasn’t gotten any worse, necessarily, just the schedule hasn’t let up, and he really hasn’t been able to do two days of work in a row for a while.”
Is it worse, though?
“I want to say aggravated,” added Whiteside. “I don’t really want to say worse.”
Miami has an off day at home on Thursday before hosting the Charlotte Hornets on Friday and welcoming the Warriors to town on Sunday. Projected by most as a playoff team in the East this season, the Heat own a 10-11 record, just a game back of the eighth seed at the season’s quarter turn, and they’re 2-4 without Whiteside. Rookie Bam Adebayo has started in Whiteside’s stead and been fairly productive in big minutes, but any team missing its $24 million cornerstone will struggle.
The only question left is how long the Heat can continue letting Whiteside play through knee pain? He tore the patellar tendon in the same knee as a rookie in 2011 and played his way out of the league thereafter, before his stunning rise from $981,348 flyer to $98 million man over the previous three years. Soreness in his right knee also cost him four games in January 2016 before a sprained right MCL ended his season prematurely in the playoffs that year. The Heat can’t afford either scenario again.
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