From depths of doom, Bam Adebayo says Heat put aside the ‘crazy’ talk

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As he prepared for something closer to playoff normalcy, Bam Adebayo was asked Wednesday to reflect, both on a season that started at the bottom of the standings and then to even before that, when the Miami Heat last were in the NBA playoffs.

In each case, the fourth-year center found himself in a far different space as the Heat prepared for Saturday’s 2 p.m. playoff opener in their best-of-seven first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

It was just three months ago when the Heat found themselves in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, behind teams such as Chicago, Orlando, and, yes, even Cleveland. And even in February, there was time in 12th place in the 15-team conference,

From there, from the low point of seven games below .500, came the rejuvenating run to a 40-32 finish, at a season-best eight games above .500, and the conference’s No. 6 seed.

“It was growing pains,” Adebayo said of the darkest days of the 2020-21 season. “Everybody was looking at me like I was crazy, when I was like, ‘Yo, it gets better as you grow.’ Everybody was saying we’re not in the playoffs, this, that and the third.

“But I felt like my team and the staff did a great job of blocking out the outside noise and just really putting our heads down and trying to just stack wins.”

The biggest change, Adebayo said, was simply getting teammates back at his side.

“We got healthy,” he said. “That was the biggest thing. We got a healthy team and we were able to be in the game together and figure out the chemistry. I feel like that was the reason.”

That health was on display at Wednesday’s practice AmericanAirlines Arena, one of the team’s rare practice days this season.

“Everybody was able to work today,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, “and we haven’t had a day like that in a while.”

That included Jimmy Butler being back on the court, after sitting out the weekend’s final two games of the regular season due to back pain.

It was, of course, Butler who helped push the Heat to last season’s NBA Finals. But that was in the pandemic’s quarantine bubble at Disney World.

Escaping that setting, Adebayo said, has added a sense of normalcy to the process, including taking flight Friday for the first two games of the series at Fiserv Forum.

“Last year was different,” Adebayo said. “I mean you can’t even put last year in a regular conversation. Being in a bubble was different. But it feels like it’s getting back to normal. So it’s going to feel different.

“We made the playoffs my rookie year [2017-18] when it was normal, and that’s the playoff atmosphere that everybody wants to be in. So it’s going to be exciting to be back in that playoff atmosphere.”

Just as he said it’s exciting to be back to something close to last season’s form, noting the team had flipped the switch to something better well in advance of the eve of the postseason.

“It’s already been flipped,” he said. “Because if it wasn’t flipped, we’d definitely be in the play-in, or out of the playoffs. Because there was plenty of times when we were almost the worst team in the East. So it’s definitely a switch.”

The rise in the standings has been replaced by the challenges of best-of-seven survival rounds, with Spoelstra stressing even more is needed and expected.

“We feel that we’ve been playing at a high level of intensity and emotion the last several weeks,” he said Wednesday, “but that still isn’t the level of what you can expect from the playoffs. And I think we have enough veteran guys to understand that.”

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