When Heat rookie Bam Adebayo was a healthy scratch for three games in a four-game stretch in late March and early April, it was unclear whether he would crack Erik Spoelstra’s rotation again as the Heat’s roster became deeper and healthier.
But Adebayo’s strong play in the past week, particularly Wednesday against Toronto, has made a compelling case for playing time.
And coach Erik Spoelstra suggested Friday that Adebayo might have a role in this playoff series that begins Saturday night in Philadelphia.
“He certainly brings something that could be needed in this series, which is that energy and physicality under the rim,” Spoelstra said. “This is a big offensive rebounding team and you need more of your best rebounders out there.”
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Adebayo ranked 32nd in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes (at 13.4) and held players he guarded to 42.3 percent shooting — fifth best among all NBA centers from a defensive standpoint.
And this was significant: During his final four appearances of the season, the Heat outscored teams by 50 points in Adebayo’s 73 minutes on the court. He was very good in Wednesday’s overtime win against the Raptors, with 10 points and four rebounds.
Asked if that performance gave him something to think about, Spoelstra said: “He always makes me think. That’s what you want of your players. You want them to have to force your hand. Every time he’s played, he’s been productive.”
Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington, Dwyane Wade and Justise Winslow are essentially assured of minutes off the bench. If Adebayo plays, that would be 10 deep.
“I plan on playing a nine-man, 10-man rotation,” Spoelstra said.
SIXERS ON RECORD ROLL
▪ According to ESPN, Philadelphia is the first team to enter a postseason on a winning streak as long as 16 games. They’ve won the past eight of those games without injured center Joel Embiid.
The Sixers ruled out Embiid for Game 1 on their Twitter account around the same time Spoelstra was meeting with reporters. “For us, let's just wait and see if he marches out there at the start,” Spoelstra said.
▪ Spoelstra said he expects 6-9 forward Robert Covington to defend Heat 6-3 point guard Goran Dragic for “a lot of minutes. It’s not the first time Goran has seen bigger players have to guard him. That’s out of respect.”
▪ The Sixers’ fast pace creates challenges for Miami.
“They play faster without Embiid,” Spoelstra said. “But it’s not like they played slow with him. I think they play fast all the time, even with Embiid. They have a top 10 pace. It will be on steroids tomorrow night. ... All of their bigs are very skilled, good defenders. They have dynamic three point catch-and-shoot players very similar to us."
▪ James Johnson sees one area the Heat hopes to exploit: “When you’re making that many passes and you’re top in the league in assists, you’re going to have a lot of turnovers.”
The Sixers averaged 16 turnovers per game, most in the league.
“I think we match up well,” Johnson said. "The playoffs are all about half-court sets. We know they’re up in the top of the league in fast breaks and assists and all that. But you’re going to have to really play half-court offense in the playoffs.”
▪ Wade has appeared in more playoff games (172) than the Sixers' expected starting lineup Saturday (90).
“I think it could be huge for us,” Josh Richardson said of the Heat’s edge in postseason experience. “The game changes for the playoffs. My first year going it was definitely some learning curve there. Going in with our feet wet already in the playoffs, with D-Wade, U.D. [Udonis Haslem] and JJ [James Johnson] and Kelly [Olynyk] and guys like that who have been in a lot of playoff games, it’s a big advantage."
But Richardson cautions: “It’s a tough matchup for anybody because they’ve got a guy that’s 6-10 [Ben Simmons] that plays point guard, first of all. They’re tall across the board. You really just got to kind of get them moving. You can’t just let them stand there and use that length.”
▪ For the first round only, South Florida viewers will have a choice of watching all the games on Fox Sports Sun (with Eric Reid and Tony Fiorentino) or on a national network. Mark Jones and Hubie Brown call Game 1 on ESPN, and Spero Dedes and Mike Fratello work Game 2 on TNT.