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The Miami Heat have looked like one of the most dangerous contenders in the Eastern Conference to start the season. Erik Spoelstra’s squad is 13-8 and sits in third place in the conference standings through 21 games.

A huge reason for the Heat’s strong start has been Bam Adebayo continuing his stellar play from last season, but Miami will now be without their star center for at least a month due to a torn UCL in his right thumb. How will Adebayo’s absence affect the Heat moving forward, and who will be forced to step up in his place?

The Heat look like NBA title contenders again

After their exhausting run to the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble, the Heat limped to a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season and got swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks. But with a full offseason to finally recharge, Miami looks like a contender for the Eastern Conference crown yet again.

Jimmy Butler is playing at an MVP level, Tyler Herro is a legitimate threat to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award, Adebayo has been masterful on both ends of the court, and new signings Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker have fit right in from the jump.

Through 21 games, the Heat’s defense is holding opponents to just 103.3 points per game, which is the third-best mark in the NBA. Leading the way in that respect has been Adebayo, who leads the team in defensive win shares with 0.9. He’s also averaging a career-best 18.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game on the offensive end.

Butler may be the MVP of this team a quarter of the way through the season, but Miami wouldn’t be third in the Eastern Conference standings without Adebayo manning the paint.

Heat suffer brutal injury blow to Bam Adebayo

The Heat were humming along just fine leading up to their Wednesday night matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but a concerning piece of news just dropped that sent shockwaves through downtown Miami and beyond.

On Wednesday afternoon, the team announced on Twitter that Adebayo suffered a torn UCL in his right thumb in a recent game against the Denver Nuggets. He’ll undergo surgery this weekend and will be out of the lineup for four-to-six weeks, according to a tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That means the Heat will likely be without Adebayo for at least 16 games, if not more.

How will the Heat replace Adebayo?

Bam Adebayo will be out for four-to-six weeks after tearing his UCL.
Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Denver Nuggets | Mark Brown/Getty Images

There’s no substitute for what Adebayo brings on both ends of the court. He’s an elite defensive big man who can switch pick-and-rolls and hold his own on the perimeter against quicker guards, and he locks down the paint for a team that prides itself on its ferocious defense.

In Adebayo’s absence, Dewayne Dedmon will be forced into a more prominent role, and Markieff Morris might have to play more minutes at center going forward. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that rookie center Omer Yurtseven will now be in line to play more valuable minutes off the bench. The 23-year-old from Turkey should have a chance to prove to Spoelstra that he belongs in the everyday lineup for the rest of the season.

Adebayo should be able to return at some point in January, so the sky isn’t exactly falling in Miami just yet. However, without their star center patrolling the paint, the Heat could easily lose some ground in what should be a tight Eastern Conference race. By the time the postseason rolls around, Miami will want home-court advantage for a playoff run.

That might not be realistic if Adebayo misses a full six weeks of action.

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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