Heat’s RJ Hampton still looking to take flight; Butler, Herro, Lowry out vs. Magic

MIAMI – The commute to the Heat’s G League affiliate can be complex, service between Miami and Sioux Falls, S.D., hardly the itinerary of choice.

For guard RJ Hampton, that turned into a positive amid ongoing uncertainty with the Heat’s injury report.

With his flight on Thursday canceled and his travel plans Friday delayed, the Heat wound up circling back to Hampton when guard Tyler Herro went on the injury report with a sprained right shoulder.

So instead of preparing for Sioux Falls Skyforce vs. Austin Spurs, Hampton found himself on-call for the injury ravaged Heat backcourt Friday night against the Orlando Magic at Kaseya Center.

Sidelined for over a month at the start of the season due to a sprained right knee, Hampton has found himself amid the most uneven of seasons, twice called upon to start, called on for Heat minutes in six consecutive games, otherwise unsure of his next destination on his two-way contract, either South Florida or Sioux Falls.

“I don’t really feel like it’s uneven. I feel like that’s just like life, like life happens that way,” said Hampton, a 2020 first-round pick who already has been with the Denver Nuggets, Magic and Detroit Pistons. “Everybody’s not going to play 40 minutes a game every game. So my even is the up and downs. That doesn’t feel uneven. So just trying to find my even balance and staying focused.

“But also just staying in the gym, like in the gym before shootaround, in the gym at night, staying after games. So those things are big for me. I haven’t played a lot of games in the G League, primarily because I was hurt for that stretch of period. But being up here, coming back and playing six games in a row was good for me, to get back in rhythm, to see NBA guys again, to play against those guys and try to mesh with my new teammates.”

With an eventual return to health by Herro, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler and others who have lingered on the Heat injury report, Hampton’s next extended action likely will come with Sioux Falls.

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But with travel getting in the way, Friday turned into another shorts, T-shirt and Heat jersey day.

“Whenever they’re down, I know I can step up and help the team in any way,” Hampton, 22, said. “Also, I feel like it’s a learning year. Kyle is one of the greatest point guards to ever play in the NBA. So just studying his brain, I sit next to him on the plane, I sit next to Jimmy on the plane.

“So studying them, watching them, learning from them has been the best part of this whole process.”

With his two-way contract becoming guaranteed for the season this week, there at least is that stability. As for playing time, that never was a given in a backcourt that also includes Josh Richardson, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin, among others.

“It has been a rollercoaster in my basketball life,” said Hampton, who began his professional basketball career at 18 with the New Zealand Breakers. “I wouldn’t even call this adversity. This is just trying to get where I want to go.”

Injury report

Butler (toe), Herro (shoulder) and Lowry (hand) all were ruled out of Friday night’s game late Friday afternoon.

Butler missed his fifth consecutive game with the toe ailment, and now has missed 10 of the past 11 games when also including five missed with a calf strain.

Herro missed his first game since returning on Dec. 18 from an 18-game absence with an ankle sprain.

Lowry missed his second consecutive game with a sprained left hand.

Forward Cole Swider, who is on a two-way contract, remained with the Skyforce in the G League.

For the Magic, ruled out against the Heat were Gary Harris (calf), Kevon Harris (G League), Jett Howard (G League), Jonathan Isaac (illness) and Franz Wagner (ankle).