CHICAGO — On an NFL Sunday, the Miami Heat instead made it a G League viewing party — as well as a traveling party.
With the team having shifted 2022 first-round pick Nikola Jovic to the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gathered his staff in his hotel suite to check up on the team’s players in the developmental league.
Heat forward Jimmy Butler took it a step further, chartering a brief flight to watch Jovic and the Sioux Falls Skyforce in person for their Sunday road game against the Wisconsin Herd, the Milwaukee Bucks’ G League affiliate that is based in Oshkosh, Wis.
“We all got together and had deep-dish pizza and watched the game in my room,” Spoelstra said Monday. “And all of a sudden noticed Jimmy there. I was like, ‘How did he get there? It’s a 3 1/2-hour drive.’ And then, of course, when you’re of Jimmy’s caliber, flights are so much easier. What a life.
“If I was one of those players, I would have been extremely motivated, which they were. That’s a cool aspect and that’s fun to see.”
In the first of what is expected to be three G League appearances this week, Jovic closed Sunday’s 123-121 loss with 26 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4 of 8 on 3-pointers. The rebounding, however, remains a concern, with the 6-foot-10 big man managing just three rebounds in his 33:25.
“We really enjoyed it,” Spoelstra said ahead of Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. “This is a big part of his development. And you can see why we’re really encouraged by his improvement.
“We have a very intentional plan with him, and getting game minutes right now is the most important thing. He’s checked all the other boxes, in terms of weight room, conditioning, player development, drilling behind the scenes. But now he needs five on five. And I want him to get a lot of minutes down there. And I want to give him as many games as possible in the next several weeks. But definitely encouraged with his minutes.”
Also in that game, forward Jamal Cain, who is on a Heat two-way contract, closed with 25 points and 12 rebounds, his second double-double in his three G League appearances this season.
“He’s really been playing winning basketball,” Spoelstra said of Cain, “and he did it on both ends of the court. His stints there have been impactful.”
Additionally, forward Cole Swider, also on a Heat two-way contract, had 18 points in Sunday’s loss to the Wisconsin Herd, shooting 4 of 10 on 3-pointers.
“Cole’s minutes there were very strong, as well,” Spoelstra said.
Spoelstra said this will be a small sample of the time Jovic is expected to get with the Skyforce in coming weeks.
“Right now, it’s probably going to be a four-, five-game stint, come back to be with us,” Spoelstra said, “but then I want to send him out again, hopefully for a little bit longer of a stint. I want him to get a decent amount of games and minutes under his belt.”
Jovic has played just 28 minutes over two appearances with the Heat this season.
The Heat confirmed Monday that guard Tyler Herro is out of the walking boot that was required after he suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain in the Heat’s 108-102 Nov. 8 road victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Heat, in announcing Herro’s diagnosis, said Herro would be reevaluated in two weeks, which would be on Wednesday . . .
Forward Cheick Diallo, who was in camp with the Heat and then moved on to the Skyforce, has left the organization, reportedly to return to the team in Japan where he previously played.
Amid the consecutive games against the Bulls, Spoelstra reflected back to the days when Bulls coach Billy Donovan was nearby as University of Florida coach.
“He’s a great leader, terrific thinker,” Spoelstra said. “I think that’s what I’ve always been drawn to when I met up with him. It’s been a few years. That’s the unfortunate thing, now that we’re in the same league. There was always nights when he was in college, when you’d get together and just talk shop. He’s always striving to look at things differently and innovate.
“He’s very creative, very innovative, and I always enjoyed my time with him.”