News & Notes from the Bubble

HEAT Get Set for First Scrimmage
Miami HEAT
Photo Credit: Miami HEAT
by Joe Beguiristain

Well, the wait is almost over.

For the past week and a half, the HEAT have been training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando as they prepare for the NBA restart. And while things will get real once the team’s seeding games begin on August 1, Miami’s first taste of action in over four months will be on Wednesday at 8PM against the Kings.

“This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for,” Derrick Jones Jr. said. “We all wanted to get back to basketball, and it’s just something that we all love. I’m just happy to be here and just happy to be out there with my guys, so I’m going to just enjoy every moment of it.”

Erik Spoelstra echoed Jones Jr.’s sentiments.

“[On the court] is where we feel like we live in a normal world…we’re back into our comfort zones where it’s familiar,” Spoelstra said. “…we’re all just extremely grateful that we’re able to participate in this. This is historical, and that’s why we just have to continue to cross our fingers.”

Nothing is set in stone quite yet, but on numerous occasions Spoelstra has alluded to utilizing his team’s depth as he gets guys in shape and figures out the best lineup combinations and machinations.

“Our depth is going to play a factor,” Coach Spo said. “I’m going to play guys, certainly in the scrimmages and the rest of the regular season, probably a little bit more and go deeper into our rotation as we ramp this up and guys get into better game shape. That is a strength of ours that we feel that we want to utilize.”

That strength is even more prominent with the return of Meyers Leonard and Tyler Herro. Remember, Leonard missed Miami’s last 16 games prior to the shutdown, while Herro sat out 15 of his own before making his return on March 11 against the Hornets.

Herro, who is shooting 52.2 percent in the clutch, noted that the time off allowed him to get back to 100 percent and feel the best he’s ever felt in his life at 5.5 percent body fat.

In just a short amount of time, Andre Iguodala has seen a motivated 20-year-old who hasn’t rested on his laurels one bit. As such, the 16-year vet wants to help the former Kentucky Wildcat in any way possible.

“I’m a huge fan of his…you don’t have to tell him twice to do something. He just wants to really be great, and he wants to get better. Every day I see him, I’m just like, ‘Whoa, this kid has got a ton of potential, and he really loves the game’”, Iguodala said.

“He just doesn’t want to be complacent with being really good. He wants to be great for a really long time, so for me, it’s just trying to help out any way that I can…even if that’s off the court.”

KZ Making Progress

Herro isn’t the only player who has changed his body over the past few months.

KZ Okpala, who saw action in a handful of games for the HEAT and showed potential in Sioux Falls under Head Coach Eric Glass, has shown growth both literally and figuratively, per Spoelstra.

“The game experience and the accountability and the coaching that he received from EG and the coaching staff there was the most important thing. And he was really starting to make some strides, particularly defensively,” Spoelstra said. “…defensively, he has the potential to be extremely unique, if not special…I was encouraged also by his last few weeks, just the level of detail and focus and effort that he brought to the individual workouts, which was different than last summer…he looks different. He’s put on 10, 12 pounds. He’s physically changed his body, and that’ll continue to happen.”

With Spoelstra likely going deep into his rotation early on and Okpala doing his part, perhaps we’ll see a little bit more of the Stanford standout in the bubble.

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Embracing Comradery & Competition

Since the bubble is such a unique environment, there are plenty of new challenges that all 22 teams have to overcome.

To help combat the off-court hurdles, the team has put together a team room with a mural of all the player’s families.

Jae Crowder thinks that added touch is a good thing for the guys mentally.

“That’s our safe haven. That’s where we all get together and we talk it out. We had a few film sessions. We had a few meals…so that’s where we come together and be with each other and play dominoes…we’re just trying to mingle and try to do what we need to do off the court to sustain a good comradery on the court,” Crowder said. “…seeing my daughter on the wall…it touched me. And I’m sure it touched a lot of our other players to see their families and knowing every day we’ll see that wall, which is a good thing for us mentally.”

The league has also helped keep the players safe and mentally strong, as Spoelstra and Duncan Robinson have lauded the strict safety measures put in place due to COVID-19.

In terms of obstacles on the court, the guys will have to work their way back into game shape, but you know that they’re going to lay it all on the line regardless of the circumstances.

Just ask Jimmy Butler.

“People like to say that we have a group full of underdogs. Say what you will, but we got a group full of really good pros that love to hoop, love to compete, and we’re going to go out there and give it our all,” Butler said. “Home, away or neutral here at Disney, I think you can count on the Miami HEAT bringing it.”

As the unequivocal leader of the team, Butler is vital to Miami bringing it and upholding the culture. Solomon Hill is still relatively new to the organization, but he’s seen that up close and personal.

“If you’re not in the lines with him, if you’re not on this team, I can see how some people can create these ideas and these stories about him.” Hill said. “He’s a competitor, point blank period…he’s vocal, he’s in it, and he’s going to be a big reason why we find success here…he defines…HEAT culture.”

Fighting for Social Justice & Equality

Another part of HEAT culture is standing up for what is right.

In light of systemic racism and the death of George Floyd, the HEAT and the NBA as a whole have taken a stand to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

As for who’s been leading the discussion and helping the team take action, look no further than Hill.

“[Hill has] been really poignant with his view on this. In our first team Zoom meeting where we talked about it, he was outstanding, just the way he articulated his feelings and his thoughts on this movement,” Spoelstra said. “First, the reality of the situation of we’re living in a country where there’s a history of this systemic racism and inequalities and social injustices that we all have had to open our minds to really, truly try to understand how this has been centuries of building on this. Solomon in our discussions has really been enlightening, not only to the team, but for myself…he has great experience. He has respect, and I really respect his action…Solo has been great in directing the conversation and then [providing] guidance about where we can make the biggest changes. One of those…is voting education and registration.”

Even though Hill has led the charge for the HEAT, he stressed the importance of unity and this being a concerted initiative.

“It’s a combined effort,” Hill said. “If everybody in the NBA is on the same wavelength, it adds to the collective. Instead of it being one, two guys, three guys, maybe even 20 guys. Collectively as the NBA, we’re showing unity. And we hope it spreads to each and everybody that reaches out and watches us while we’re playing in this bubble.”


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