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Heat’s Bam Adebayo has earned Erik Spoelstra’s trust

Bam Adebayo has earned Erik Spoelstra’s trust.

Yes, he’s just 21 years old. Yes, he’s played in fewer than 140 regular-season NBA games.

But Spoelstra trusts the young big man to play him in a lot of late-game situations. Entering Saturday’s game against the Nets, Adebayo has logged the second-most fourth-quarter minutes (462) this season among Heat players behind only Josh Richardson (531).

“That’s unique,” Spoelstra said. “When we drafted him, I don’t think I would have anticipated that I would trust a 20-year-old and 21-year-old to be able to finish important games. But he’s earned it. You earn opportunities with relentless consistency. You have to make an impression over and over and over, and that’s what Bam does.”

Entering Saturday, Adebayo had played in 60 of the 61 fourth quarters he’s been available for, compared to starting center Hassan Whiteside getting in just 27 of the 53 fourth quarters he’s been available for.

That doesn’t necessarily mean everything has gone right while Adebayo has been in the game, with the Heat actually outscored by 87 points in his fourth-quarter minutes. But his screen setting, defensive versatility and passing ability have proved to be assets down the stretch of games.

Adebayo is averaging a team-high 4.9 screen assists per 36 minutes this season, has held players he’s guarding 7.8 percent below their normal shooting percentage within 10 feet of the basket, and has recorded the second-most fourth-quarter assists on the Heat (46) behind only Dwyane Wade.

“A lot. Most of it is experience,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo’s growth from his rookie season. “The more you play, the more you compete, the more you get to know the league, the more comfortable you’re going to be to be able to bring out the best of your abilities. The game is slowing down for him a little bit, so he’s able to be more athletic, quicker. If you add a work ethic and a commitment like he has every single day, you’re going to see big strides, particularly with somebody that’s only 21 years old.”

As for his fourth-quarter playing time, not even Adebayo expected to play this much late in games so early in his career. He was drafted by the Heat with the 14th overall pick in 2017.

“I didn’t think [Spoelstra] would trust me that much either,” said Adebayo, who entered Saturday averaging 7.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and two assists this season. “But he trusts me, so I got to go out there and perform and do what I’m supposed to do. I feel like I’ve been prepared for a lot of stuff like this when I was younger, always played up. When I was in college, you got eight months to figure out who you want to be. Now it’s kind of like the same thing, just keep being prepared and get more advanced with it.”

The next step for Adebayo is getting Spoelstra to trust him to be more aggressive with the ball in his hands. He’s averaging just 5.2 shot attempts per game this season.

“I feel like as the years go on, he’s going to start trusting me more with the ball in my hands,” Adebayo said. “I just got to keep working, keep showing him I can do it and keep building those great habits that I have.”

ROSTER NEWS

The Heat’s roster is back down to 13 players after Emanuel Terry’s 10-day contract expired Friday. Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten, signed to two-way contracts, do not count among those 13.

Terry, a 6-foot-9 forward, played in one game with the Heat. He finished with one point, one rebound and one assist in three minutes during Miami’s loss to Detroit on Feb. 23.

The Heat was originally left with 13 players when it traded Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington to Phoenix for Ryan Anderson last month. But Miami was required to add a 14th player no later than 14 days after dropping to 13, which is when it added Terry.

Now that Terry’s deal has expired, the Heat has another two weeks before it needs to add a 14th player to its roster.

By signing players to 10-day contracts and then going to back to 13 players for another 14 days, the Heat keeps alive the possibility of being able to slip under the luxury tax threshold this season.

Goran Dragic (left calf strain) and Hassan Whiteside (left hip strain) did not play Saturday against the Nets.

It marked the first game Dragic has missed since returning from right knee surgery on Feb. 23. For Whiteside, it was the third consecutive game he’s missed with his hip injury.

“They’re both close, but they weren’t able to go tonight,” Spoelstra said.

James Johnson (slight AC sprain in left shoulder), Kelly Olynyk (right ankle sprain) and Derrick Jones Jr. (bruised right knee) were available to play against Brooklyn.

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