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MIAMI (AP) – Hassan Whiteside has paid his dues with several stints in the D-League and others in China and Lebanon. Now his persistence is finally paying off with extended playing time in Miami.

The shot-blocking center looks to continue his rise as the banged-up Heat try to avoid their third straight defeat in the opener of a four-game road swing Sunday against the struggling Boston Celtics.

After he was drafted in the second round by Sacramento in 2010, Whiteside played just 19 games in his first two seasons before earning the NBL defensive player of the year honors and Finals MVP for China’s Sichuan Blue Whales in 2013. The 7-footer also spent five months in the Lebanese Basketball League in 2013-14 and had another 17-game stint in China.

Whiteside played sparingly after signing with the undersized Heat in November, but he’s emerged as a force inside recently. Since Jan. 11, he’s averaging a league-best 3.3 blocks while ranking in the top 10 with 11.6 rebounds per game.

He’s had 15.3 points and 17.7 boards per game in his last three since missing two with an ankle injury. That stretch began last Sunday when he posted a triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a franchise-record 12 blocks in Chicago.

Whiteside had 16 points and 24 rebounds – tied for the second-most in team history – in Friday’s 93-72 home loss to Dallas. Though he was 7 of 11 from the field, Miami shot a season-low 33.0 percent and blew a 16-point lead with Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng sidelined.

“When I’m out there, I just produce. I just do my best to really put us in a situation to win,” he said. “We’re missing a couple of teammates, but we’re going to try to push through it.”

Wade will not make the first part of the week-long trip because of a strained hamstring, though Deng could return after missing the past two games with a calf injury.

Whiteside should have an advantage in the paint as the Heat (20-26) seek their fifth win in seven road games. Boston hasn’t been starting a player taller than 6-foot-9.

The Celtics (16-29) are also trying to recover from a season-worst shooting performance, hitting 35.6 percent in Friday’s 93-87 home loss to Houston. They’ve lost three straight and five of six at TD Garden.

Bass and Marcus Thornton each had 17 points for the Celtics, who couldn’t get closer than 82-79 after trailing by 18 at halftime.

“The key to every game is how you start the first quarter, how you end the second quarter, how you start the third quarter and how you end the game,” forward Tayshaun Prince said. “Lately, that’s kind of where we’ve been up and down.”

Leading scorer Jared Sullinger hopes to bounce back after scoring eight on 4-of-14 shooting.

Sullinger had only nine points in the first meeting with Miami on Dec. 21 when Boston shot 39.8 percent in a 100-84 road defeat. Tyler Zeller led the Celtics with 22 points but has since been removed from the starting lineup and has totaled 13 in his last two games.

Wade, Whiteside and Chris Bosh missed that December win. Bosh scored 12 on 5-of-18 shooting Friday as the Heat fell to 2-10 when he plays and is held below 19 points.

The Heat have dropped 11 of 12 regular-season matchups in Boston.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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