Heat Notes: Play-In Territory, Cain, Jovic, Rozier

The Heat are spending their second straight year trying to close out the season by clawing their way out of play-in territory. Sitting at seventh in the East at 40-33, this wasn’t where the team expected to be after becoming the first No. 8 seed to make the Finals in a non-lockout-shortened season in 2023, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald writes.

On their path to the NBA Finals last year, the Heat lost to the Hawks in their first play-in matchup and trailed against the Bulls in a winner-take-all game with about four minutes left. Miami would prefer to not have to endure that uphill climb again, Chiang writes, but it’s very much a possibility for a Heat team that’s a game behind the Pacers for sixth and two game back of Orlando for fifth in the conference.

The opportunity is still there for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what we have to continue to understand. There can be disappointments during the season, there are ups and downs. You ultimately are where your record says you are. But there’s an opportunity in front of us if we can take advantage of it and that’s what we’re focused on right now.

Chiang explores the reasons why the Heat have gotten to this point, including injury woes, struggling against the league’s best teams, and more. Miami entered Thursday with the league’s fifth-highest total of games missed due to injuries (250) and has set a new franchise record with 35 different starting lineups this season. Additionally, the trio of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro have played just 21 games together this year.

We have more on the Heat:

  • While developmental prospect Orlando Robinson and two-way players Alondes Williams and Cole Swider are in the G League ahead of the playoffs, two-way wing Jamal Cain remains with the Heat, Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel writes. Cain is set to finish his second straight season on a two-way deal with the Heat after seeking a standard contract in the offseason and not getting one. As Winderman notes, Miami opted to give Dru Smith a standard contract after training camp to address their point guard depth and then picked up Delon Wright and Patty Mills instead of promoting Cain when more roster spots opened up. Cain has impressed when it counts and has more appearances in the NBA than G League this season, but as part of his two-way deal, he won’t be eligible for the playoffs. He’ll be a restricted free agent again this offseason.
  • Second-year Heat forward Nikola Jovic exited Friday’s game against the Trail Blazers with a right knee contusion and did not return, as relayed by Winderman (Twitter link). After playing sparingly in his rookie season and beginning this year outside the rotation, Jovic has turned into a key rotation piece for the Heat. He has started in each of his last 17 games, averaging 8.2 points and 3.8 rebounds while connecting on 40.6% of his 4.1 three-point attempts per game. According to the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, Jovic’s injury isn’t considered anything serious.
  • Heat guard Terry Rozier always envisioned playing in Miami and the possibility of landing with the team appealed to him, Chiang writes in a separate story. Much of that comes down to his well-documented respect for franchise legend Dwyane Wade, who swapped jerseys with Rozier during his farewell season in 2019. Rozier further discussed that relationship with Chiang: “I just look back to when I was 6, 7 years old, I was just in the gym by myself. Me going to shoot the ball, going to the hole, I used to fall on purpose. I used to try to copy D-Wade, I used to think I was D-Wade all the time. Just fast forward to now, it’s kind of full circle where I can put on a Heat uniform and I can give the best version of myself.
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