ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Retaining fifth-year center Hassan Whiteside was a major priority for the Miami Heat last summer.
Whiteside, an emerging star, showed why it was so important for the Heat keep him as the cornerstone of their rebuilding during Wednesday night’s season opener. The 7-footer dominated the paint in helping deliver a 108-96 win in Miami’s first game without perennial All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
He led the Heat with 18 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. It was a statement night even if that wasn’t Whiteside’s intention.
”It’s not about trying to make a statement,” Whiteside said. ”It’s just that I’m coming out here and playing. My teammates made it easier for me and we just played as a team. I’m coming out there with a chip on my shoulder, a lot of guys are counting us out. These guys have an edge to them so I’m excited.”
Whiteside showed some flashes in the first half, but it was in the second that his athleticism and strength became too much for the Magic, who were without center Bismack Biyombo for Wednesday night’s game. Whiteside scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots in the final two quarters to help the Heat blow open a back-and-forth game.
Miami never relinquished the lead again after a 7-0 run midway through the third quarter that was sparked by a big block by Whiteside and one of his several slam dunks.
”He was enjoying the game and competition, even when he was on the bench and that is important,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”We need him to be great and he was that in the third quarter. He really anchored our defense and ignited everyone else.”
His prowess on the inside started a dunk-fest as the Heat owned the paint the second half. Goran Dragic scored 16 points and Justise Winslow added 15, while Tyler Johnson’s 15 points led three players off the bench in double figures for Miami.
Miami scored outscored Orlando 74-36 in the paint.
Orlando guard Evan Fournier led all five starters in double figures with 20 points while Nikola Vucevic turned in a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
But none of it was enough to prevent Frank Vogel from suffering a loss in his coaching debut with the Magic.
Heat: Second-year guard Josh Richardson did not play Wednesday night due to a sprained MCL in his right knee. … Both Tyler Johnson and James Johnson came off the bench to give the Heat a boost, scoring eight points each in the first half. … The Heat have won six straight openers, the longest such current streak in the NBA.
Magic: Point guard Elfrid Payton had an up and down night, scoring 16 points, but he only had four in the second half and committed four costly turnovers. … Serge Ibaka managed 14 points but shot just 6 of 17 from the field in his debut with the Magic.
It was Spoelstra’s career win No. 400.
”I was talking to Pat (Riley) about that and he said `Oh, 400. When I was with the Lakers that many years, I had about 700,”’ Spoelstra said. ”That’s puts it in perspective. I’m just glad I had an opportunity to coach this many games. I should have been fired three or four times.”
Fournier says there is no better opponent for the Magic to start the season with than their in-state rival Miami.
”Playing Miami the first game is special,” Fournier said. ”We don’t like them and they don’t like us. It’s no secret.”
With Biyombo serving an NBA-mandated one-game suspension for exceeding the flagrant foul limit in last season’s playoffs, the Magic had to shift some things around. Ibaka had to slide over and play center quite a bit when Orlando went to its smaller lineup and Vucevic went to the bench.
Heat: Miami will open its home schedule on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets without Wade on the roster for the first time since the Heat drafted him in in the first round in 2003. Wade is playing for the Chicago Bulls.
Magic: On Friday Orlando begins an early season three-game road swing with the first stop at The Palace of Auburn Hills to take on the Detroit Pistons. The Magic will also play NBA champion Cleveland and then Philadelphia on the trip.