Heat’s Nikola Jovic a leading man? For a night that’s the case at World Cup

The expectation for the Miami Heat, at least at the moment, is not for Nikola Jovic to play as a leading man, with the No. 27 pick in the 2022 NBA draft having just turned 20 in June.

But for at least one night at the World Cup that was the case for the 6-foot-11 forward, leading Serbia to a 94-77 victory Monday over Puerto Rico in the Philippines with 17 points.

On a night teammate Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Atlanta Hawks guard, struggled on 5-of-16 shooting, Jovic compensated by closing 6 of 9 from the field, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers.

That had Jovic as Serbia’s representative on the postgame media podium in Quezon.

“I just got my shot,” Jovic said. “My teammates found me. I hit some open shots. That’s it.”

Bogdanovic was appreciative of the support, saying that Jovic is in a good place in the Heat’s developmental program.

“He’s an amazing player,” Bogdanovic said. “I mean, Miami drafted him for a reason. He’s a hard-working guy. He’s always in the gym. He always likes to work. He always improves his game.”

Jovic has been needed to step up, with Nikola Jovic, the Denver Nuggets’ All-Star center, bypassing the World Cup after leading the Denver Nuggets past the Heat in the NBA Finals.

Serbia (2-0) completes opening-round pool play at the World Cup with a Wednesday game against South Sudan.

Having won its first two games by a combined 59 points, Serbia is all but assured a berth in second-round pool play ahead of the elimination rounds.

After a solid summer-league, with 22-, 22- and 14-point efforts for the Heat before leaving for training with his national team, Jovic has scored at least 11 points against quality international competition in four of Serbia’s five exhibitions and World Cup games.

Jovic is among Heat players who have been linked to a possible trade for Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who has requested a trade to the Heat.

Spoelstra, too

Team USA also improved to 2-0 Monday at the World Cup, with a 109-81 victory over Greece.

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Ahead of that game, members of the USA roster were asked by Rappler, a Philippines digital media company, about the impact of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who is serving as a USA Basketball assistant to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr.

“It’s mainly how attentive he is, how intense he is,” Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said, “requiring all of us to give that effort and that next gear and that next layer. It’s great.”

Said Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero, “I would say just energy every day, consistent energy, intensity as a coach. He’s always live, ready, locked in, you can see why he’s such an elite coach and why he has been for a long time.”

What has stuck out to Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges has been, “Intensity, hard work, defensive and offensive mind, but everything is just so sharp. It’s dope, just to see it.”

With Los Angeles Lakers forward Austin Reaves noting, “Huge imprint. The coaching staff has done an amazing job being open to everybody.”

USA Basketball closes out round-one pool play Wednesday against Jordan.

Haslem honor

The Miami Marlins on Thursday, Sept. 7 will honor retiring Heat captain Udonis Haslem with UD Night, with Haslem having attended Miami Senior High, just one mile from loanDepot park.

Haslem will serve as an in-game host from the 6:40 p.m. game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A special ticket package features a limited-edition “Haslem 40” Marlins T-shirt, with a portion of the proceeds ($3.05) going to The Udonis Haslem Foundation.

“Udonis Haslem embodies the South Florida community, and it is our honor to celebrate his many accomplishments on the court and in the surrounding neighborhoods of Miami with UD Night on September 7,” Caroline O’Connor, Marlins president of business operations, said in a release. “We could not think of a better way to recognize his commitment to the community than by supporting his newly launched foundation with a donation from every UD Night ticket.”