Heat’s Spoelstra appreciates how NBA enforced bench rule after fight: ‘It’s not letter of the law’

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As tempers flared in New Orleans on Friday night, a few Miami Heat players left the bench to make their way over to the melee near the scorer’s table at Smoothie King Center.

Among the Heat players who left the bench to move closer to the fight during the fourth quarter of Friday’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans were Thomas Bryant, Nikola Jovic, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo. In the past, that would have likely led to an automatic suspension for those four players.

According to the NBA rule book, “During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be subject to suspension, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.”

But, among that group, only Bryant and Jovic were suspended by the league. Jimmy Butler was the third Heat player suspended by the NBA and he was already in the game at the time of the incident.

The fact that neither Adebayo nor Herro was suspended despite leaving the vicinity of the bench is another example of the NBA putting more weight on context and intent when enforcing this rule. The NBA didn’t find that either of the Heat’s stars got directly involved in the fight.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra credited NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA Executive Vice President and Head of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars for this change.

“[Dumars] understands it from a player’s perspective and I think that’s really important,” Spoelstra said, referring to the 14-year NBA career of Dumars before taking on the role of NBA executive. “That it’s not letter of the law, it’s observing it, looking at it, seeing all the context of it and then making the best decision based on everybody’s parties. The league, No. 1, the players and teams.”

Bryant was “suspended three games without pay for leaving the bench area during an on-court altercation and fighting,” the league said in a press release. Jovic was “suspended one game without pay for leaving the bench area and entering an on-court altercation.”

Butler was “suspended one game without pay for instigating and engaging in an on-court altercation” during Friday night’s game, the league said.

Butler and Jovic will serve their one-game suspensions on Monday night when the Heat faces the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. Bryant will begin serving his three-game suspension on Monday and will miss the final three games of the Heat’s four-game trip that continues on Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center (10 p.m., Bally Sports Sun).

“I think Joe has a really good feel for it and all of our interactions with him have been very good and objective,” Spoelstra continued on Dumars. “I respect that about Joe. Everybody wants the same thing, everybody wants what’s best for the league. You don’t want anything that’s going to turn into something over the top, into the fans. But if a guy is just on the sideline and he takes one step over, that would not make sense for him to be suspended.”

While Friday’s brawl resulted in suspensions that will leave the Heat short-handed on Monday, coaches and players believe that moment could end up helping the team in the long run.

“We felt like it kind of brought us closer, connected us a little bit more,” Herro said. “If we weren’t before that, it definitely brought us closer. This is the time of the year where we want to start coming together a little bit more as we’re getting ready for the playoffs.”

It’s a moment that also highlighted the competitiveness of the Heat’s roster, as it gears up for the final weeks of the regular season in hopes of making a push up the Eastern Conference standings and avoiding the play-in tournament.

“There’s also been a lot of dialogue about everybody wants the games to be competitive, and everybody wants the competitive nature and spirit out of players and teams,” Spoelstra said. “I think everybody was able to see that the other night. We wish it could have stayed within the four lines of competition and basketball. But sometimes when things get really competitive and you have really competitive players, it gets to that point. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. We’ll deal with that and wait until we have everybody available.”

CHASING THE RING

Bryant’s three-game suspension means he’ll miss Thursday’s NBA Finals rematch between the Heat and Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena.

Bryant was on the Nuggets’ roster that defeated the Heat in the Finals last season to win the NBA championship before signing with the Heat as a free agent this past summer. Thursday’s return to Denver was supposed to be Bryant’s opportunity to get his championship ring, a small ceremony that typically happens on the court, but he won’t be allowed into Ball Arena for the game because of the suspension.

“It’s disappointing for anyone,” Bryant said when asked about those plans changing because of his suspension. “I think that’s self-explanatory.”

Bryant still plans to receive the ring during the visit to Denver.

“I’ll make sure I get it,” Bryant said.

INJURY REPORT

Along with missing Bryant, Butler and Jovic because of their suspensions, the Heat will also be without Josh Richardson (right shoulder dislocation) and Dru Smith (season-ending right knee surgery) on Monday against the Kings.

Herro (left knee hyperextension), Orlando Robinson (lower back spasms) and Terry Rozier (right knee sprain) are listed as questionable for the Heat.

The Kings, which defeated the Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday night, have not yet issued their injury report for Monday’s matchup against the Heat.