The Miami Heat haven’t had center Bam Adebayo available for the past six weeks due to a thumb injury, but they still managed to ladder up and seize the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to rookie backup Omer Yurtseven.
The Heat (27-16), who sit a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets (27-15) and a full game behind the Chicago Bulls (27-14), will see Adebayo return to the lineup just as the Nets and Bulls are seeing key players go down with injuries.
The Bulls’ Zach LaVine went down with a sprained knee on Friday night, and the Nets lost Kevin Durant to an MCL sprain on Saturday. As a result, the Heat find themselves in position to snag the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference while LaVine and Durant are sidelined.
During their most-recent surge, the Heat saw their NBA championship odds bump to +1400. They’ve been running away with the Southeast Division title and they’re now -900 odds to win and deny the Atlanta Hawks back-to-back divisional crowns. Adding Adebayo, who posted career numbers of 18.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game before his injury, back to the lineup couldn’t come at a better time.
Adebayo is slated to return to action against the Toronto Raptors on Martin Luther King Day (Monday), though he’s currently listed as questionable. If Adebayo doesn’t play tonight, he could return later this week against the Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks, or Los Angeles Lakers.
Bam’s backup: Omer Yurtseven
Adebayo suffered ligament damage in his thumb in late November in a game against the Denver Nuggets. The Heat expected him to miss four-to-six weeks while recovering from UCL surgery. At the time of the injury, the Heat were 13-8 with Adebayo in the lineup. Without him, the Heat went 14-8 thanks to their backup center.
Yurtseven, a 6-foot-11 rookie from Turkey, took a while to earn the trust of Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. But, as soon as Yurtseven proved his value, Spoelstra added him to the rotation. He played so well on both ends of the court that Spoelstra inserted Yurtseven into the lineup as a starter during the last 10 games.
Yurtseven barely saw any action in the first two months of the season. He was buried deep down the bench and averaged three minutes and1.1 ppg in November. In December, Yurtseven finally cracked the Heat rotation, averaging 7.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game off the bench. By the time he joined the starting five, Yurtseven logged 30 minutes a night and hauled down a double-double much to the delight of fantasy basketball nerds that picked him off the waiver wire.
“He’s been a monster for us,” said Jimmy Butler.
“I have no idea where Pat (Riley) found this Yurtseven kid, but it’s pissing me off,” said Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers.
In January, the rookie averaged 14.3 points and 13.9 rebounds per game, while averaging nearly 60% from the floor. Spoelstra now has to figure out how to get Yurtseven minutes while Adebayo slowly returns to his old form. It will also be interesting to see if those two can play on the court at the same time.