The doors over the past month have swung wide open for anyone and everyone on the Miami Heat roster amid the extended absences of Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler and the others who have populated the NBA’s daily injury reports.
On Wednesday night against the Boston Celtics, Haywood Highsmith matched his career high with 16 points. The game before, there was a critical late 3-pointer by Dru Smith against the Atlanta Hawks. And before that, Jamal Cain, Nikola Jovic and even Orlando Robinson had their moments.
But as the Heat move closer to whole, the question is whether there will be more from those aforementioned unexpected contributors, or whether they will turn into this season’s versions of last season’s Kyle Guy, who came out of nowhere last December to provide winning moments, only to fade from sight just as quickly.
While complete health never can be assured, it would change the paradigm from what has been recently on display.
Haywood Highsmith: Knowing that Herro was back and Butler was on the way, Spoelstra nonetheless said in the wake of Highsmith’s Wednesday performance, “He earned playing time, legit playing time. Now even when we get healthy, you have to think about it.”
But with Max Strus back from the shoulder injury that kept out two games and with Duncan Robinson back from the ankle sprain that had him out, the numbers don’t appear to be in Highsmith’s favor.
“He’s already been earning the trust of everybody in the locker room, because of his defensive toughness and tenacity,” Spoelstra said, as the Heat turned their attention to Friday night’s rematch with the Celtics at TD Garden. “He just makes a lot of plays defensively, and in our zone, he’s as good as anybody we have.
Dru Smith: Signed back to a two-way contract the day after Thanksgiving, Smith found himself playing fourth-quarter minutes in Sunday night’s tight victory over the Hawks at the start of this four-game trip.
But with Gabe Vincent back after missing five of the previous six games with knee swelling, Smith did not play Wednesday. The most likely scenario for Smith playing time at this stage could be time off for Kyle Lowry, perhaps in the upcoming back-to-back set that opens Monday in Memphis and concludes Tuesday against the visiting Detroit Pistons.
Jamal Cain: After a run of five consecutive games of double-digit minutes for the undrafted rookie on a two-way contract, Cain played just two minutes Sunday and none Wednesday, once Strus was back in the mix.
Now, with Highsmith drawing notice, Cain could find himself back in the G League, for additional seasoning with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Nikola Jovic: While foot and groin issues have had Jovic on the injury report, his playing time could come down to the availability of veteran big man Dewayne Dedmon, who is dealing with foot issues of his own.
But even then, Spoelstra already has gone at times with since-released Orlando Robinson, Cain and even 42-year-old Udonis Haslem in place of the 19-year-old first-round pick. Seasoning in Sioux Falls still appears possible in Jovic’s forecast when the Heat are whole.
Duncan Robinson: While Robinson has yet to be held out of a game this season by coach’s decision, the Heat hardly have been whole. But when the Heat were close to whole early in the season, there were Robinson outings limited to just 5, 6 and 11 minutes.
Now, with Victor Oladipo closer to his season debut, even a Heat veteran could get squeezed from the rotation.
During last season’s playoffs, when Oladipo had some of his best Heat moments, Robinson was held out of five games by Spoelstra, including the season-ending Game 7 loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.