CHICAGO — The schedule said it was time for Nikola Jovic to play.
Not the Miami Heat’s schedule, but rather the schedule of the G League Sioux Falls Skyforce.
So, with that, the 2022 first-round pick out of Serbia participated Saturday morning in the Heat’s shootaround at the United Center, but, rather than staying for Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls, headed off to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“He needs to play,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, with Jovic having appeared in two games for 28 total minutes with the Heat this season. “That’s the most important thing. We’re right here. I’d like to get him a few games. This’ll be a shorter stint. We’ll evaluate and go from there.”
The timing of the trip worked to minimize travel, with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Skyforce, playing the Milwaukee Bucks’ affiliate in Oshkosh on Sunday and Tuesday and then the Bulls’ G League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls, in the Chicago area on Wednesday.
Such scheduling could have Jovic back with the Heat by week’s end, with the Heat on a five-game trip that continues Monday with another game against the Bulls, a Wednesday game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a Friday game against the New York Knicks and a Saturday game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Also leaving Saturday for the G League was forward Cole Swider, who is on a two-way contract.
“I think it will be huge,” Swider said of the assignment for Jovic. “Because I think there’ll be a point in the season where Niko will be in the rotation, he’ll be playing a lot of minutes. That’s just how the NBA works.
“So for him to be able to go down and get three games in four days, I think will be huge for him. He’ll be a main priority.”
Jovic, 20, said he appreciated the need for the assignment.
“I just want to play,” he said. “That’s it. I just want to get some playing time, stay in a rhythm, you never know what’s going to happen here. Maybe they’ll need more help from me, you never know. I just want to improve and these guys do a great job at it. Even being in the G League, I feel like it’s going to be great for me.”
For Jovic, it’s been a whirlwind, loading up on playing time in Serbia’s run to World Cup silver this summer in the Philippines, then limited with the Heat due to illness at the start of this season, and now as many minutes as he can handle with the Skyforce.
“All those three things are different to play in,” he said. “For me, personally, last year in the G League was really hard. At one point I even thought it was harder for me to play in the G League than in the NBA. But we’ll see. It’s not easy. But it’s going to help me a lot.”
The G League opportunity will mean a reunion with several familiar faces, with Heat forward Jamal Cain on two-way assignment to the Skyforce, Swider also now assigned, and the presence of several Heat training-camp prospects such as Justin Champagnie, Alondes Williams and Drew Peterson on the Sioux Falls roster.
Saturday’s game meant a rematch against the team the Heat defeated in a winner-take-all play-in game to advance to last season’s playoffs, a run that led the Heat all the way to the NBA Finals.
On April 14 at Kaseya Center, the Heat trailed the Bulls by 10 in the second half and by one with 2:54 to play before winning that game 102-91 to secure the No. 8 and final East playoff seed, ending the Bulls’ 2022-23 season short of the playoffs.
“Yeah, we do think about that,” center Bam Adebayo said after Saturday morning’s shootaround. “They probably think about that. But the biggest thing for us is that it happened, we got the W.”
Said Spoelstra “Our play-in game last year was harrowing.”