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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
25 Mar 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:Ira Winderman: Playoff drive running deep for the Heat (with some kid stuff involved)

It has been an uneven run, players coming and going amid the struggle for a mid-tier playoff seed.

But now, a playoff berth has been secured. Thoughts can turn to the postseason.

No, not the Miami Heat, at least not yet.

But for the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, it’s playoff time starting Tuesday, the first time the Heat’s affiliate has made the postseason since 2016, which also is the lone time the Heat’s affiliate won the G League title.

Typically, such matters are, well, minor league.

But this has not been a typical year, with significant cross pollination between the Heat and Skyforce, to the degree that five players have seen action for both the Heat and Skyforce this season.

That has had former Heat forward Kasib Powell working a balancing act in his second season as Skyforce coach.

“One of the goals and expectations we had was making the playoffs,” Powell said. “And in this league, only 12 [of 30] teams do. So we have been shooting for this from the beginning of the year. We wanted to set the bar high.”

On one hand, there is winning. On the other, there is development. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, as this season has shown in South Dakota.

But while Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gets updates, and while Heat front-office types such Andy Elisburg, Adam Simon and Eric Amsler monitor when able, it is Powell who stands with the ultimate perspective.

Ahead of the G League playoffs, Powell offered his thoughts on this season’s Sioux Falls-to-South Florida pipeline.

Orlando Robinson: The undrafted rookie center began the season solely under contract to the Skyforce, before being shifted to a Heat two-way deal in December. He now is back with the Skyforce for the playoffs.

“I think we always believed he was an NBA player,” Powell said. “He had a slower start than he probably would have liked. But his work ethic is like no other.

“He kind of picked it up really fast. I knew he would get better, but I would be lying if I said I knew he would get better this fast. His progression has been a great thing to watch. We were all shocked how fast he got better.”

Jamal Cain: The undrafted rookie forward has been on a two-way Heat contract all season, with several productive stints in Sioux Falls, inciting a recent 38-point outing. Like Robinson, he is back with the Skyforce for the playoffs.

“The way he plays and what he brings to the table is definitely translatable.” Powell said. “In that game when he scored 38, we barely ran any plays for him. And I think in the next level, in the NBA level, they’re not going to run plays for him, and he’s going to have to be a role player who has to figure out a niche.

“But I think his progression is going to be on the defensive end. I think he has the ability to be a 3-and-D. The guys just love having him here. He buys into what we do.”

Jamaree Bouyea: The undrafted rookie guard had a 10-day contract with the Heat in February, a 10-day contract this month with the Washington Wizards and now is back with the Skyforce, free to sign with any NBA team.

“He’s a dynamic player, as a point guard and a scorer,” Powell said. “Right now he’s talented enough to be somebody’s backup point guard on an NBA team.

“I think what’s kept him from the league is just being young and figuring it out. But he’s talented enough to be at the next level. I think improving his shot to where he’s more of a consistent 3-point shooter will help that jump.”

Marcus Garrett: The second-year guard went into camp on a Heat two-way contract but then was cut due to wrist surgery. He has been with the Skyforce since, excelling on defense but uneven on offense.

“He has to get better on the offensive end, which I think he has made a jump,” Powell said. “But his skill set on defense is so good that I think that translates to the NBA in itself, like being a Patrick Beverely guy.

“Where he’s at defensively now, even NBA guys won’t get to that level.”

Mychal Mulder: The 28-year-old veteran of stints with the Golden State Warriors and Orlando Magic, finished last season with the Heat on two-way deal and then was among the final players cut from training camp in October. He leads the G League in 3-pointers as an unaffiliated player, free to sign with any NBA team.

“I’ve been with him for three years now, and this is the best I’ve seen him play.” Powell said. “And it’s not like a hot streak, where it’s three or four games. He’s been tearing up the league all year.

“For him to be able to make that next jump is to step up his defensive side of the ball. And we’ve been doing different things with him. If he adds a bit more on the defensive side of the ball, I think that’s what’s going to get guys in the NBA to take another look at him. But I think he’s close. He’s been one of the rocks of this team.”

Dru Smith: The guard began the season on a Heat two-way contract, lost that contract to Robinson, and then signed a two-way deal with the Brooklyn Nets, where he remains.

“Losing him was a big thing,” Powell said. “It was a big hole to fill. Dru was a player who did what you needed. But that’s also part of what we wanted to do with the roster, was to have the most call-ups.”

FORWARD THINKING: The Heat and New York Knicks will meet again Wednesday in a game at Madison Square Garden that will determine the playoff tiebreaker. Ahead of that, the Knicks already have attempted to set an agenda, after the Heat’s Jimmy Butler attempted 14 free throws to only one by Knicks forward Julius Randle in this past Wednesday’s Heat victory over the Knicks at Miami-Dade Arena. “I mean, any time I take that much contact and I shoot one free throw for the game, that pretty much tells the story,” Randle said. As it was, the Heat attempted 26 free throws to the Knicks’ 25. The Knicks appeared to take greater umbrage to video that showed a fallen Butler grabbing the leg of Knicks center Mitchell Robinson to prevent Robinson from giving New York a manpower advantage in transition. Such a play could have been ruled a transition take foul, which would have given New York one free throw and possession. The Knicks indicated that video from the game was forwarded to the league office. “Yeah, I mean, we go through every game,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of requests for officiating clarity. “There’s things that we do send in. There’s a lot that goes on in a game. If something we think crosses over the line, we’ll send it in.” He added, “In terms of free throws, Butler had 14 free throws and some of them, you know, some were fouls, but some were awfully tight.”

REMEMBER WHEN: With the Dallas Mavericks’ protest of the lack of clarity on a possession in their loss to the Golden State Warriors, keep in mind that there has not been a successful NBA protest since one by the Heat in 2007-08. That’s when then-Heat center Shaquille O’Neal was ruled by the scoring crew in Atlanta to have fouled out in overtime in a loss to the Hawks, when O’Neal actually had only five fouls. The irony of that replay is that by the time the game was resumed on March 8, 2008, O’Neal already had been traded to the Phoenix Suns and the Heat were in all-out tank mode, on the way to 15-67 and Michael Beasley at No. 2 in the 2008 NBA draft, failing to score during the 51 seconds of the replay. When that game initially was played, on Dec. 19, 2007, it proved to be the final game of Alonzo Mourning’s career, with the Heat icon suffering a career-ending knee injury that night. Also, because Shawn Marion had played for the Suns on Dec. 19, 2007, before being dealt to the Heat for O’Neal, he remains the only player credited with playing for two teams on the same day, with the Heat-Hawks replay still officially listed as occurring on Dec.19.

EARLY INSIGHT: In advance of the Heat honoring Udonis Haslem this weekend for his 20 seasons with the team, Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan was asked if he could have envisioned this type of longevity and mentorship from the player he coached at the University of Florida from 1998 to 2002. “I mean, I think one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever been around,” Donovan said. “People probably don’t realize this, but when he was coming out of high school – he’ll probably get embarrassed I say this – I think he was like 280 pounds. And he was a dominant, dominant, dominant low-post player. I mean he was as good as any low-post player in the country in college. I mean he was really unstoppable. Great footwork, could score, could seal. And just a nasty competitor.” But Donovan said Haslem even then was putting team first, “You could throw him in any team situation and he totally adjusts to what you have to do to impact winning.” Donovan then recalled a specific conversation, when Haslem said, “You play me how you got to play me for us to win.” Now, two decades later, Donovan said it is no surprise Haslem still is in an NBA locker room. “There’s always a place for a guy like that inside any team,” Donovan said. “Just because he’s a truth teller, talks the truth, speaks it and is not afraid of confrontation.”

LIMITED SAMPLE: Out following wrist surgery, the end might be near for former Heat forward Andre Iguodala with the Golden State Warriors. In his 19th season, Iguodala has appeared in only eight games this season, for 113 minutes. The irony is that he still proved impactful when available, his 116.7 offensive rating second on the Warriors only to Stephen Curry, and with a team-best 104.7 defensive rating. Iguodala, 39, was injured on a drive to the basket against the Phoenix Suns. Like Haslem, Iguodala, when he signed a one-year deal prior to the season, said this would be his final year. Even with his five NBA titles, Basketball Reference’s Hall of Fame tracker has Iguodala with only a 12.7% probability of being enshrined. Among those who had lower probabilities but were enshrined were Bobby Jones, Spencer Haywood and Gus Johnson.

247. Points in the Heat’s 127-120 Wednesday night victory over the Knicks, the third-highest total in the 133-game regular-season series that dates to the Heat’s 1988-89 inception. It is the most points the teams combined for since the Heat won 128-121 on Feb. 23, 1990. The series record is 255 in a 132-123 Knicks victory on March 2, 1989, a night the Heat opened with a lineup of Rony Seikaly, Grant Long, Sylvester Gray, Kevin Edwards and Rory Sparrow, a night the Knicks opened with Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Johnny Newman, Trent Tucker and Mark Jackson.