Southeast Notes: Avdija, Jovic, Heat Struggles, Clifford

Wizards forward Deni Avdija signed a four-year, $55MM extension with the team last offseason. The fact that a new front office regime – rather than the one that drafted him – offered him that contract was a shot of confidence for Avdija, signaling the franchise’s belief in the former No. 9 overall pick, The Washington Post’s Ava Wallace writes.

Avdija, 23, has rewarded that faith with his best professional season yet, averaging career bests of 14.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while connecting on a career-high 50.9% of his shots from the field and 37.8% of his three-pointers. Avdija explained that getting that contract from the Wizards last year felt like a weight removed from his chest and allowed him to focus on basketball.

Deni’s been great,” interim coach Brian Keefe said. “Growth has been tremendous. We’ve put the ball in his hands to make plays for himself, for others. The rebounding has been great. We’re going to keep pushing Deni to do more because we think he can be — do — more.

In an otherwise poor season, Avdija has been a bright spot for the Wizards and looks like a centerpiece going forward as the club navigates a rebuild. Amid uncertainty, he led Washington in starts this season and recorded 24 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in the home finale on Friday.

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • When the Heat first inserted 20-year-old Nikola Jovic into the starting lineup this season, it was seen as more of an experiment than a long-term solution, Ira Winderman of South Florida’s Sun Sentinel writes. Flash forward to April, and Jovic has held firm on a starting spot as the Heat approach the postseason. He’s averaging 9.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 39.5% from three in his last 25 starts and has provided the team with a stretch big who can run the floor next to Bam Adebayo. “He’s improved in so many of the areas. It started with his work ethic,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I often have to remind myself that Niko is 20.” With Tyler Herro healthy, it’s possible Miami switches up its lineup in the postseason, but Jovic will likely remain a part of the rotation, starter or not.
  • Injuries and an inefficient offense continue to be a thorn in Miami’s side this season, Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald writes. The Heat entered Thursday with the fifth-most missed games in the NBA due to injury — and the most of any team with a winning record. Josh Richardson, Duncan Robinson and Terry Rozier are among the key rotation pieces currently absent for the Heat, and it doesn’t help that they’ve scored fewer than 100 points in a game 18 times this year, going 2-16 in such outings. “Ultimately, we have to figure out a way that we can try to play somewhat the same identity on the offensive end game to game,” Herro said. The Heat are left to scramble for answers whenever Jimmy Butler and/or Adebayo have an off night, according to Chiang.
  • Steve Clifford‘s tenure with the Hornets is ending, but the veteran coach isn’t taking his foot off the gas pedal even with his team long eliminated from the postseason, per The Charlotte Observer’s Roderick Boone. “We have good, young guys that can continue to grow,” Clifford said. Regardless of the lack of postseason appearances and the amount of injuries over the course of his second stint with Charlotte, Clifford is thankful for getting a second chance to coach this team. He’s set to move into a consultant position under the guidance of vice president of basketball operations Jeff Peterson after the season. “The consulting thing is tricky,” Clifford said, “… you have to pick your spots and figure out what areas you can most help in.
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