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Derrick Jones delivers key contributions in another Heat win

Derrick Jones Jr. never made it into the Miami Heat’s locker room while reporters waited to talk with the small forward following the Heat’s 101-99 win against the Houston Rockets in Miami. Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade and a couple others all passed through to share their thoughts on the Heat’s season-best three-game winning streak. Jones, however, took his time.

Somewhere in the practice facility at AmericanAirlines Arena, Jones followed yet another standout performance with a postgame workout. Apparently, he had more energy to expend after his 15-point, eight-rebound effort Thursday.

“He’s a game-changer,” Richardson said inside the locker room after the win. “He’s doing so much for us right now.”

On the six-game road trip which led into Thursday, this sort of performance became commonplace for Jones. Against the Memphis Grizzlies last Friday, Jones scored 13 points in a win. Against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, he chipped in 11 in another victory. Even when he wasn’t scoring in double figures, Jones found ways to contribute. He pulled in 11 rebounds in a win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 8, then followed it up with 14 in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 10.

Jones has scored in double figures six times this season — three of those came in the Heat’s past three games. He has grabbed at least eight rebounds five times — all came in Miami’s last six games.

“Every year we got a guy like that, pretty much. It was me four years ago, it was Rodney [McGruder] right after me, it was probably somebody last year, and it looks like it’s Derrick this year,” Richardson said. “[Coach Erik Spoelstra] and the coaching staff have a way of developing guys and getting them ready for that moment and D-Jones is taking advantage of it.”

Thursday was the first chance for the home crowd to fall in love with this version of Jones. In the four home games prior to the six-game road trip, Jones played a total of six minutes and didn’t play at all in three. Even when the Heat’s West Coast trip began against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 7, Jones played just seven minutes.

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The switch began to flip for the 21-year-old in Los Angeles. Jones logged 25 minutes and Miami (14-16) outscored the Clippers by 16 points when Jones was on the floor, giving Jones a season-best plus-minus.

Against the Lakers, Jones posted a truly unique stat line. He grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked three shots, notched three steals and did it while scoring only eight points. Only 32 other players in NBA history have posted such a stat line, and the list is filled mostly with centers and big men. None of those 32 are true small forwards such as Jones.

Thursday, however, might have been a new signature performance for Jones. To go along with his 15 points, Jones grabbed eight rebounds, blocked two shots, notched a pair of steals and went toe-to-toe with James Harden. He frequently guarded the reigning MVP on one end and got to the free-throw line like Harden on the other, shooting 8 of 11.

Miami has found a winning formula the past two weeks — play tough defense and scratch out offense any way it can, often through offensive rebounding. A former Slam Dunk Contest participant, Jones might embody this identity better than anyone.

“He’s doing so much for us right now,” Richardson said. “He’s defending, he’s rebounding, he’s playing tough down the stretch, he’s in the game in the fourth quarter and he just really started playing. When he’s flying through the air like that, people are looking around and then other guys are getting open lanes, so he’s a big help.”

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