CLEVELAND — Even as they competed for playing time, Max Strus and Duncan Robinson worked to make each other better. That had the two meeting up Wednesday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse with a sense of mission accomplished.
For Strus, bypassing Robinson in the rotation by the end of his Heat tenure never was a case of wanting to leave Robinson behind. It is why, Strus said, he took comfort in Robinson’s playoff revival last season and upgraded play this season.
“Everybody kind of gave him a bad rep,” Strus said ahead of Wednesday night’s matchup, “but Duncan’s been good the whole time I’ve been there. He came off the bench in a diminished role, but he played well. We all go through struggles, we all have our ups and downs. But Duncan is a phenomenal basketball player and actually probably the best shooter I’ve ever been around.
“So I knew whatever he was going through wasn’t going to last, and as soon as the opportunities presented itself and he kept doing what he was doing, he was going to be fine. Because Duncan works very hard and Duncan is what Duncan is.”
Strus takes no credit for his free-agency departure breathing new life into Robinson.
“He’s really good and was going to be good,” Strus said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with me leaving.”
Robinson said at Wednesday morning’s shootaround that it has been comforting to see each has found his way, even if now apart.
“I learned a lot from him,” Robinson said. “I’d like to think he learned some stuff from me, as well. And I think that together, especially in the playoffs together, I think we were effective in the fact that you could at all times have one of us on the floor and bring kind of a new dynamic, particularly to the offense.
“Max is a great friend of mine and that was before we really started competing for opportunities and he’ll remain a friend of mine.”
That fact that Strus also was able to cash in out of the Heat’s developmental program made the partnership all the more rewarding, Robinson said.
“Super excited for him. He earned it. He deserves it,” Robinson said. “I know that feeling and that’s an amazing feeling. I know how much he’s put into this journey, maybe not the entire scope of the journey, but at least a lot of his professional career. To see that work that he’s put in get paid off in that sense, it’s not all about the money, but just to be acknowledged in that sense.
“To happen to one of the good guys because he’s certainly one of the good guys, that was special to see. And I made sure that I communicated that to him, reaching out to him and just telling him how proud I was of him and how much he deserved it.”
Wednesday also was to be a Strus reunion with Heat big man Kevin Love. Love, however, left the team due to personal reasons amid this five-game trip.
Strus said Love was influential in his move to the Cavaliers, with Love having spent eight-plus seasons with the Cavaliers before joining the Heat last February on the buyout market.
“I mean Kevin was one of my favorite teammates ever,” Strus said, despite spending only four months as teammates. “The minute he walked in the door in Miami, we kind of just hit it off. He’s just a great dude and a great vet that I always looked up to. So being able to have him on my side during that process, and somebody who left Cleveland probably not on the best terms, for him to tell me the truth about everything, and to have that viewpoint, was special.
“Everything that he said, everything that he told me, he told the truth and I’m seeing that every day here. He said it was a great place, a great organization. The teammates are great. We got really good people here. He was right about it.”
On G League assignment as part of his two-way contract, Heat forward Cole Swider scored 34 points Tuesday night’s in a 117-106 victory by the Sioux Falls Skyforce over the Milwaukee Bucks’ affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd.
Swider closed 12 of 21 from the field, including 9 of 14 on 3-pointers, adding six assists and three steals.
“Yeah, we watched it again as a staff,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It was a fun game. You want to see the team bounce back after a tough loss and they were able to do that on the road. A lot of good contributions.
“Cole was terrific shooting the basketball, but we noticed five or six hustle plays, as well, either getting deflections or loose balls, diving on the floor, blockouts. Those are winning plays that contribute. So it’s not just the 3-point shooting, although that is something.”
Jamal Cain, the Heat’s other two-way player on Skyforce assignment, added 19 points and eight rebounds in Tuesday night’s victory, now shooting .641 from the field and .545 on 3-pointers this season.
“Cain continues to play winning basketball,” Spoelstra said. “That part has been really enjoyable to see, as well. He defends the other team’s best players, he rebounds, he’s able to score in a lot of different ways that translate also up [to the NBA level], because he can do it without the ball and his shooting has really improved.”
In his second appearance this season with Sioux Falls, Heat 2022 first-round pick Nikola Jovic had 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds, playing as Sioux Falls’ starting center.
“It was just good to get Niko all those minutes at the five,” Spoelstra said. “He needs as much of that as possible.”