Kendrick Nunn keeps having to prove himself in Miami. Luckily, the second-year guard keeps acing every test thrown at him with flying colors.
Nunn scored 15 points and dished out four assists on Sunday night while making a steal and playing lock-down defense. He’s already starting to make people forget about the Miami Heat losing Victor Oladipo.
The two-time All-Star missed his first full game after tweaking a previously injured right knee on April 8. The team is being a bit cryptic about when or if Oladipo will return this season, including a non-committal quote from head coach Erik Spoelstra.
“I don’t have a new update,” Spoelstra told reporters prior to Sunday’s game. “He’s not with us on this [road] trip and he won’t be with us [Sunday]. I don’t have any new information.”
While X-rays came back negative, Oladipo admitted he was still suffering from rupturing the quadriceps tendon in that same knee back on January 23, 2019. Meanwhile, Nunn has resumed his pre-Oladipo trade starting role for the Heat without skipping a beat. Spoelstra was quick to praise Nunn’s resilience and tough-mindedness.
“It just shows you his competitive character, not everybody can do that,” Spoelstra said of Nunn. “Look, this league isn’t easy, and sometimes you’re put in situations where you just have to show some resilience, or you go the other way.
“And Kendrick is a tough kid, tough-minded, and he really wants to be there for his team so he’s handled it the right way, really put in a lot of time behind the scenes, and then when he was given this opportunity again he was ready for it.”
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Trevor Ariza Impressing on Defense
Another Miami Heat newcomer has been wowing teammates on the defensive end, too. Trevor Ariza came over in an under-the-radar trade for Meyers Leonard on March 17. It’s taken the veteran forward a few games to learn “Heat Culture” but now he’s thriving. Jimmy Butler called Ariza one of the smartest players on the roster. Why is he is so good?
“How smart he is, always knowing what plays are being run, always being in the right spot,” Butler told reporters. “Staying down on shot fakes, it’s the things people don’t see that he does extremely well, to put him in a position to be able to guard those guys. And it’s tough because he’s got one of the toughest matchups every single night.”
The 35-year-old is listed at power forward but he often clamps down on smaller guards, like what he did to Portland’s Damian Lillard on Sunday night. He also took turns checking Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum in certain sets. Ariza is an imposing presence in the backcourt at 6-foot-8.
Portland State’s Gym Gets Some Credit
Spoelstra credited the gym at Portland State for helping their defensive effort against the Trail Blazers. The Heat practiced there on Saturday and apparently the court didn’t have a three-point line painted on it. Instead, Spoelstra used the half-court stripe as a reference point for the Heat to rehearse their aggressive, attacking defensive schemes.
“That was our only point of comparison,” Spoelstra said. “So your defense ends up being eight, 10 feet out further than it normally is. If you’re not willing to make big-time multiple efforts and have activity, you have no chance when your defensive is that stretched out.”