LeBron James gets in Hassan Whiteside’s head in advance of matchup between Heat and Cavaliers

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LeBron James will face his former team for the second time this season on Wednesday, when the Miami Heat travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers.

There’s a little less at stake this time than there was during LeBron’s Christmas Day return to Miami, with the Heat dealing with injury issues (Dwyane Wade is out of this one, and will miss the All-Star game) and the Cavaliers in the midst of a stretch where they’ve won 13 of their last 14 games.

But there is a little bit of controversy surrounding this one — courtesy of a remark made by Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, which LeBron responded to, which caused Whiteside to react.

Joe Goodman of the Miami Herald expertly recapped the situation.

It all started with an innocent comment he made on Tuesday about playing against LeBron James. The Heat defeated James and the Cavaliers on Christmas Day, but Whiteside had a limited role in the upset. The 7-foot center hadn’t yet morphed into the rim-protecting, backboard-cleaning monster he was in January. So, now that Whiteside is playing a more advanced role, and he’s the focal point of the Heat’s defense, it was only natural for reporters to ask Whiteside about going against LeBron. Whiteside called LeBron a “good player” before noting that it wasn’t his assignment to guard the four-time MVP.

“I’ll just meet him at the rim,” Whiteside concluded.

Fairly innocuous, but nothing gets past James.

LEBRON: I’m happy for the kid more than anything … even though he just thinks I’m a good player, I’m happy for him.”

Now, understand, LeBron was joking. He smiled afterwards. But he knew exactly what he was doing by pointing out a perceived slight. After the interview he walked past me and said, “You’re tweeting that out right now, right?”

LeBron knew the remark would get back to Whiteside; that was precisely the point. But he couldn’t have predicted it would have such a strong effect — one that saw Whiteside go into Russell Westbrook mode during his most recent interview on the subject, repeating “I don’t got nothing to say” five different times before walking away from reporters.
It’s much ado about nothing, and likely won’t carry over to the game itself. But it is nice to see LeBron using this particular skill set to target opponents instead of one of his teammates.