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Minutes wane for Hassan Whiteside as Heat struggles persist

Before eight losses in 10 games dropped the Miami Heat from a middling Eastern Conference team to one of the worst in the league, Hassan Whiteside had seemed to finally take a significant step forward. The center was playing more than 28 minutes per game and hunting 20 rebounds on a regular basis. He went for 16 points and 24 rebounds against the Sacramento Kings last month, and unloaded on the San Antonio Spurs for 29 points and 20 rebounds Nov. 7. He was finally playing with the energy the Heat always hoped he could consistently. It was on him to maintain it.

But in the past eight games, Whiteside has returned to being his inconsistent self. His minutes are down to 23.6 per game and in the past three games he was benched for the entire fourth quarter. Whiteside, however, said he doesn’t feel his energy has waned from early in the season.

“Just stay with it,” Whiteside said after shootaround Friday in Miami. “Just keep playing hard, trust in coach’s decision, playing defene, rebounding and scoring, just keep bringing that energy and coach will make whatever decision he needs to make.”

On Friday, Whiteside will face a major opportunity to get back on track when the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis step on the court at AmericanAirlines Arena at 8 p.m.

Whiteside’s issues have primarily come on defense in recent weeks. Despite taking 62.5 percent of his shots from inside five feet this season, Whiteside’s field-goal percentage is down to 46.1 in his last eight. His free-throw shooting, already a weakness, has been even worse. Whiteside, 29, has made just 14 of his last 36 attempts from the line. The Heat (7-13) has the second worst free-throw percentage in the league at 70.5.

Part of it his due to his increase in minutes, but Whiteside’s rebounding and block numbers have also dropped during Miami’s skid. In his last eight, Whiteside is averaging 11.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, after starting the season off by averaging 15.5 and 3.5 in his first 11 games. Still, Whiteside leads the league in blocks and ranks second in rebounds, which he feels is evidence of the energy he’s playing with.

“I feel like my energy’s good,” Whiteside said. “I’m a high rebounder, high shot-blocking guy. It takes a lot of energy. I feel like my energy is great, so you know it’s just up to coach. Some guys are playing really well, so he went them in the lineups.”

Whiteside also said he feels completely healthy right now. The veteran has dealt with tendinitis in his right knee this season and missed a practice earlier this month because of the injury.

“It was just like a two-day thing,” Whiteside said. “It feels a lot better.”

Derrick Jones Jr. joins Heat injury report

The Heat’s list of injuries got even longer this week. Derrick Jones Jr. will not suit up against the Pelicans (11-11) on Friday after sustaining a right hamstring injury in practice Thursday. The small forward had tests done Friday and a team spokesperson said after shootaround.

“He practiced yesterday and he felt a little bit tight yesterday after practice, but he was fine,” coach Erik Spoelstra said at his pregame press conference Friday, “and then this morning he was a little bit more sore.”

No specific timetable yet is known for Jones’ status. When asked about his level of concern about the forward, Spoelstra said it’s “too early to tell.”

Jones’ injury means Miami will play Friday without four players expected to potentially be part of the rotation in the preseason. Guards Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson are both out again, as is wing Dion Waiters, who has not played yet this season. Justise Winslow, whom the Heat listed as “probable” on Thursday, is available.

The injuries left Miami with only 10 healthy players on the active roster. The Heat also sent Duncan Robinson to the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the G-League ahead of the game. While the power forward has shown flashes of promise thanks to his three-point shooting, Miami hopes to further the rookie’s development with more playing time.

“He hadn’t played for us,” Spoelstra said. “We just want to continue to develop him. We’ll revisit it as we always do every day.”

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