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Kyle Lowry out vs. Bulls, as Heat’s plan ‘to make sure he continues to feel good’ continues

The Miami Heat’s long-term plan for veteran point guard Kyle Lowry still needs to be worked out, but the team’s short-term plan for him is clear.

Play him off the bench for about 20 minutes per game as he regains his rhythm and conditioning after missing 15 straight games because of left knee soreness. This reduced role is designed to keep Lowry, who turns 37 on March 25, healthy and fresh after dealing with lingering pain in his left knee for most of the season.

“He’s savvy enough that you can throw him in any kind of role and he’ll figure it out,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said ahead of Saturday night’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls at United Center to open a quick but important two-game trip. “And I don’t say that lightly because, look, we’re trying to figure this out and it’s really more of a health issue than it is a performance issue or even strategy concern. We want to make sure he continues to feel good and then we can hopefully scale more minutes.”

The Heat’s cautious approach continued Saturday when it held Lowry out on the front end of the back-to-back set in Chicago, but he’s expected to play on the back end of the back-to-back on Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. The Heat has two back-to-backs remaining on its regular-season schedule following this one.

Lowry said he has been “very involved” in creating this plan and is on the same page with the Heat.

“I’m just getting myself healthy and getting myself in shape and in rhythm,” Lowry said. “I’m doing whatever it takes to help the team win basketball games right now.”

But there’s no denying that this has required an adjustment from Lowry, who started in his first 44 appearances of the season before moving to the bench when he returned from injury one week ago. In fact, Lowry had started in 677 straight appearances as part of a streak that dated back to January 2013 before first playing as a reserve for the Heat for the last week.

“It’s different,” Lowry said of his new bench role. “But right now I’m just trying to help my team win and they just want to kind of ease me back in. Whatever decisions coach makes long term, that’s going to be that. But right now it’s about staying healthy and getting myself in rhythm and in shape.”

Lowry has managed to be effective even as he gets accustomed to playing as a reserve, using his experience and point guard skill set to stabilize Heat bench units that have struggled for most of the season. Lowry has averaged 9.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and four assists per game while shooting 10 of 18 (55.6 percent) from the field and 7 of 13 (53.8 percent) from three-point range in his first three games off the bench.

Lowry logged 36 minutes in his first game back in a March 11 loss to the Magic in Orlando, but Spoelstra admitted afterward that he strayed from the plan and played him more minutes than he intended to. Lowry’s minutes have been at 19 and 20 in his second and third games off the bench, respectively.

“This is just an incredible luxury for our team to have Kyle Lowry in 20 minutes off the bench because of all the circumstances and because we want to set him up for success and make sure that his body is feeling great and we can stack this and build from there,” Spoelstra said. “He’s an incredible talent to be able to help organize that second unit.

“Look, that second unit has had a lot of moving parts all season long and probably unfairly has drawn some criticism because of all the changing of roles and moving parts and all that stuff. But when you have a Hall of Fame point guard who can help you get everything organized in those minutes, you don’t even have to over-coach it. It’s going to work itself out.”

While Lowry is now playing as a reserve, Gabe Vincent has played as the Heat’s starting point guard in Lowry’s place for 18 straight games entering Saturday’s matchup against the Bulls.

“I’ve always empowered Gabe. I think he’s been unbelievably great,” said Lowry, who is on a $28.3 million salary this season in the second year of his three-year, $85 million contract. “I think he’s going to just continue to get better and get more confidence with reps. For me, it’s just about making sure he sees the game. But I think he’s done a great job of having a feel for it. When you got two guys like me and Gabe where we just really want each other to be successful, it works out.”

Spoelstra has made it known that he doesn’t know what Lowry’s role will look like a few weeks from now during the final days of the regular season and a potential playoff run. Lowry could return to the starting lineup or he could continue running the bench units.

Whatever happens, the Heat and Lowry seem to be aligned on the path forward.

“We’ve been on the same page, coach and I, medical and I. Everybody is on the same page,” Lowry said. “We’re just trying to over communicate right now.”

ZELLER EXPECTED BACK SOON

Backup center Cody Zeller is not with the Heat in Chicago and won’t play on Saturday against the Bulls, but he is expected back soon after undergoing a procedure on his broken nose Friday.

“I don’t have a definitive answer for you right now,” Spoelstra said when asked for a timetable on Zeller’s return following Friday’s procedure. “Everything looks encouraging. I know what he wants to do and I know based on previous history of guys with these kind of procedures, it will be sooner than later. But you just have to see how the swelling is and all that. He does have his old mask, so that will be a good thing.”

Zeller also broke his nose in October 2021 as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Along with missing Lowry and Zeller, the Heat will remain without Jamal Cain, Nikola Jovic and Orlando Robinson on Saturday against the Bulls. Cain, Jovic and Robinson are all currently playing with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Because of a conflict with the Miami Hurricanes’ men’s basketball game against the Indiana Hoosiers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Sunday’s Heat-Pistons radio broadcast (pregame, game, postgame) can be heard on 96.5 FM and that station’s HD signal instead of on 560 WQAM.