Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Whiteside stays focused

Center brushes off latest award miss

- By Ira Winderman Staff writer iwinderman@tribpub.com

CHARLOTTE — Make it one more snub for Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside to rally against, this time finishing ninth in the voting results released Friday for NBA Most Improved Player.

But this time, Whiteside said he has moved past such balloting, at least with the Heat in the midst of something more pressing.

“I didn’t think nothing of it,” he said after the Heat completed practice at Time Warner Cable Arena in advance of Saturday’s Game 3 of this NBA first-round playoff series against the Charlotte Hornets. “I told you’all, man, I ain’t expect to win. I never thought about it.”

Whiteside, who earlier in the week placed third in voting for Defensive Player of the Year behind San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, was a distant ninth in the voting for Most Improved Player, with the award going to Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum,

McCollum was a runaway winner of the award, with 101 of the 130 firstplace votes and 559 points in the weighted media balloting. Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker was second, with seven firstplace votes and 99 points, with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokoun­mpo third, with four first-place votes and 99 points.

Players were awarded five points for each firstplace vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each thirdplace vote. Whiteside received six second-place votes and three third-place votes.

Whiteside received one first-place vote and 26 points, also finishing behind Stephen Curry, Will Barton, Jae Crowder, Green and Isaiah Thomas.

“I’m playing on a team, we’re in the playoffs, we’re up two. So everything’s going well,” Whiteside said, with the Heat up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series against the Hornets.

Whiteside said what mattered most Friday was being home, raised in nearby Gastonia, N.C.

“I’m going to go see my mom later,” he said. “I get to see the family. Everything’s great. I’m back home.”

There still is the matter of getting those 20 tickets he needs for Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. game.

“We’re working on it. We’re around 15, but we’re going to get ’em,” he said, with nieces, nephews and brothers among those he expected to be in attendance.

Whiteside’s lone firstplace vote for Most Improved Player came from Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post. Heat television analyst Tony Fiorentino had Whiteside second on his ballot, behind McCollum.

Because of his 43 starts this season, Whiteside was ineligible for the Sixth Man Award that earlier this week went to Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford.

Whiteside still is eligible for one of the NBA’s All-Defensive teams as well as one of the All-NBA teams, which have yet to be announced.

According to the NBA, the Most Improved Player Award, “is designed to honor an up-and-coming player who has made a dramatic improvemen­t from the previous season or seasons.”

The Heat have had two previous winners of the award: center Rony Seikaly in 1990 and center Ike Austin in 1997.

Prince tribute

For nearly an hour, the sound system at an otherwise empty Time Warner Cable Arena blared a taped chant of “Dee-fense! Dee-fense!” as the Heat prepared Friday for Saturday’s Game 3.

But as practice wound down, the playlist turned exclusivel­y to Prince, the groundbrea­king musician who died a day earlier.

“This is something we wanted to recognize such an incredible talent,” coach

Erik Spoelstra said. So players shot, stretched, drilled as Prince played on, while Spoelstra reflected.

“I grew up with him,” Spoelstra, 45, said. “I remember my first AAU tournament. I had got my first Prince cassette and sat in the back of plane, all of us, 13-year-olds, and that’s all we did the entire flight, was play Prince songs. And that whole trip in Arizona, we’re playing that one cassette.

“A brilliant performer. I grew up with Prince songs, the whole MTV generation. It’s an unfortunat­e day for music.”

Spoelstra said he never got to see Prince perform in person.

“I believe I had tickets once,” he said, “and the NBA schedule changed my plans.”

 ?? MICHAEL LAUGHLIN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside bumps Charlotte Hornets Kemba Walker on the head during the first half of their playoff game on Wednesday at AmericanAi­rlines Arena.
MICHAEL LAUGHLIN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside bumps Charlotte Hornets Kemba Walker on the head during the first half of their playoff game on Wednesday at AmericanAi­rlines Arena.

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