Wembanyama the story in Spurs home debut, but Cain has moments for Heat in preseason loss
The crowd at Friday night’s exhibition at Frost Bank Center deemed attendance worthy because of the home debut of San Antonio Spurs No. 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra deemed it worthy because of the opportunity to explore the back end of his 21-player preseason roster.
So while Wembanyama had his moments in his team’s 120-104 victory at the building formerly known as the AT&T Center, with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting, four rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots in 22:51, Spoelstra’s focus was on what remained of a roster that left nine rotation players back in Miami for the one-game trip.
Among those stepping forward for the Heat was second-year forward Jamal Cain, who closed with 24 points and 10 rebounds, converting 6 of 8 3-pointers.
“He really competed and played hard,” Spoelstra said of Cain, who was with the Heat last season on a two-way contract after going undrafted out of Oakland University in 2022. “It’s gratifying to see him play like that. He put so much time in in the last year.”
The Heat also got 14 points from Duncan Robinson, 12 from Orlando Robinson and 13 from Dru Smith, their lone available point guard.
As for Wembanyama, Spoelstra was duly impressed.
“You don’t really see that every night, that’s for dang sure,” he said. “All the hype and everything is real.”
If case there was any doubt that it was an exhibition, the Spurs were called for a technical foul in the second period for having only four players on the court.
Five Degrees of Heat from Friday night’s exhibition:
1. For starters: With almost the entire primary rotation remaining behind in South Florida, the Heat opened with Thomas Bryant at center, Haywood Highsmith at power forward, Cain at small forward, Duncan Robinson at shooting guard and Smith at point guard
Not traveling for the Heat due to injury or ailment were Jimmy Butler (dental procedure), Caleb Martin (left knee tendinosis), Nikola Jovic (right knee contusion), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (left groin strain) and Josh Richardson (left foot discomfort).
Allowed to remain in Miami to afford playing time for the team’s prospects were Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry.
In addition, the Heat announced that guard R.J. Hampton, who is on a two-way contract, pulled his right hamstring during warmups and was not available.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s serious,” Spoelstra said of Hampton. “He was doing layups and landed and felt something. So we just wanted to make sure that’s all it is.”
2. Cain can: With his two-way contract not necessarily assured, and with visions of a standard deal, Cain got off to a solid start, with a three 3-pointers, four rebounds and 11 points before the midpoint of the opening period.
Beyond Cain’s 4-of-7 start, the remainder of the Heat at that point was 2 of 10. At halftime, Cain was 4 of 5 on 3-pointers, with the rest of the Heat 3 of 17.
While the playing time was meaningful, more meaningful will be how Cain can complement the Heat’s primary players, since a supporting role is his best opportunity at a role.
“I didn’t know I was going to be starting this game,” he said. “So I stayed ready and I stayed confident and the ball found me and I was able to make the shots.”
3. Oh, brother: The game marked the first time that brothers Justin and Julian Champagnie had played in the same exhibition or regular-season game.
Justin is on a tryout contract with the Heat, Julian a two-way deal with the Spurs.
The two had squared off before in both the G League and summer league when Justin was with the Toronto Raptors and Julian with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Justin played as the Heat’s first reserve, handling at point guard, with Julian following shortly thereafter for the Spurs, converting a 3-pointer against his brother’s defense. Later, in the fourth quarter, Justin blocked a Julian shot.
Justin Champagnie closed with 11 rebounds and five points for the Heat. Julian had five rebounds and four points for the Spurs.
Cole Swider, Orlando Robinson, Alondes Williams and Drew Peterson followed in the first quarter as the next four Heat reserves.
Cheick Diallo, the only other available Heat player, did not enter for the first time until the fourth quarter.
“Each guy had a moment, or moments, tonight,” Spoelstra said.
4. Wembanyama Night: The focus was on Wembanyama’s home debut.
Of the versatile 7-foot-4 No. 1 pick in last June’s draft out of France, Spoelstra said pregame there was something tangible to the hype.
“All the interest and excitement is good for the league, for sure,” he said.
Spoelstra also said Wembanyama found the perfect landing spot.
“They do things the right way here,” he said. “He’s an incredible generational talent.”
Highsmith, at 6-5, took the opening assignment against Wembanyama, giving up 11 inches, with one of his early shots blocked by the lengthy big man.
Even with his numbers, Wembanyama’s biggest impact was as a one-man zone on defense, flummoxing the Heat’s Cain and Bryant, among others.
5. What’s next: The Heat close out the home portion of their five-game preseason schedule with exhibitions at Kaseya Center at 6 p.m. Sunday against the Memphis Grizzlies and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.