For the second time this season, Nikola Jovic played 32 minutes on a Sunday.
The difference is the latest action came while the Miami Heat were at full strength, and with the Heat’s first-round pick on a court in South Dakota.
No, not a demotion, just an attempt by the Heat to keep the 19-year-old from Serbia in the action at a time when the minutes have not been available on the NBA level.
With all but Victor Oladipo and Omer Yurtseven again available for the Heat, the team sent Jovic, guard Dru Smith and forward Jamal Cain to the G League Sioux Falls Skyforce for a Sunday game. Only Cain remained with the Skyforce.
For Jovic it was an uneven outing, starting and closing with eight points on 3-of-12 shooting (including 1 of 6 on 3-pointers), 10 rebounds and eight assists in 31:59.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said it all is part of the projected growth curve for the 6-foot-11 big man.
“We’re open to everything,” he said, with the Heat closing out their four-game trip on Monday night against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. “And I think it also is important for us to maintain perspective. He’s a young rookie with a great deal of potential. He has the right approach, the right work ethic and fits our program. He’s going to continue to get better. We’re open to it.”
For the most part, even when playing significant minutes during the Heat’s recent run of injuries, Spoelstra had gone elsewhere in the rotation at critical junctures. The previous time Jovic played such significant minutes was when he went 32:13 in the Heat’s Nov. 20 113-87 road loss in Cleveland, on a night six Heat players were sidelined.
“As long as he continues to develop, as long as he gets the playoff time one way or another, whether it’s here or Sioux Falls, he’ll make the necessary jumps,” Spoelstra said. “And then, as you look into the future, one, two, three years down the line, he’s promising.”
Jovic’s cameo with the Skyforce came in a 142-96 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks’ G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd.
Smith, who is on a two-way contract, also started for the Skyforce and closed Sunday with 26 points, shooting 5 of 6 on 3-pointers. Cain, who holds the Heat’s other two-way contract, played off the bench and finished with 19 points, shooting 9 of 13.
The game reunited the trio with center Orlando Robinson, who briefly held a Heat two-way contract last month, with Robinson on Sunday closing with 27 points and 19 rebounds,
The Big Four
With Spoelstra utilizing the term “Big Four” for Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro after Friday night’s victory over the Boston Celtics, Adebayo said the moniker makes sense.
“I mean for the name, it’s our big four,” Adebayo said. “It’s who we depend on most throughout the game on both sides of the court.”
Beyond any catchphrase, Adebayo said what resonates most is having all four available, after injuries had decimated the rotation.
“It’s great because all of us are on the court,” Adebayo said. “We all help each other tremendously. So when you’re missing one of the pieces, you could tell. But when we’re all together, I feel like we’re hard to beat.”
With Monday the first of two games this season against the Grizzlies, Spoelstra spoke of the unique impact of Memphis guard Ja Morant.
“He’s absolutely relentless with his energy,” Spoelstra said. “In transition, they’re the No. 1 fastbreak team in the league and he’s going to test the fences every single time.
“He’s as good as anybody in this league of breaking your defense down, pulling a second or third defender.”