The Miami Heat entered this season with high expectations following last year’s postseason where they were a missed Jimmy Butler three-pointer away from their second trip to the NBA Finals in three years.

The Heat were expected to compete for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, but early season injuries to Butler and Tyler Herro prevented them from gaining any meaningful momentum in the first few weeks of the season. Miami is currently seventh in the East with a 38-33 record which puts them one seed behind the guaranteed playoff berths and in danger of having to participate in the play-in tournament.

While this campaign has not gone as planned for the Heat so far, it seems like the winds have begun to shift in their favor over these past few weeks. This was punctuated by their most recent win–a dominant 138-119 victory over a Memphis Grizzlies team that entered the evening riding a three-game winning streak.

The strong play of Bam Adebayo, who was a team-high +20 versus the Grizzlies, allowed Miami to sail to an easy victory on a night where the two-time NBA All-Star’s mother won a cruise in an in-arena contest held during a timeout.

Adebayo scored 26 points on 10-of-15 shots to highlight an all-around performance that also saw him tally eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks in 33 minutes of action. Six other Heat players scored in double figures during the match, including Herro and Butler who added 24 and 23 points, respectively.

It was the fifth win for Miami in their last seven games and also marked the team’s first double digit win in almost two months. Close games have been the norm for the Heat this season, with 40 of their 72 games to date having been decided by five points or less, so this rare blowout was a welcome relief.

Although the Heat as a team have yet to regain the form that made them formidable title contenders last year, Adebayo’s efforts all season long have helped them remain competitive. Known primarily for his defense, the 25-year-old is averaging a career-best 21 points per game on 54.3% field goal shooting. He is also putting up 9.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game.

Despite Adebayo’s stellar showing, it may be difficult for him to qualify for one of the three All-NBA teams this season given the outstanding play of fellow centers Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Domantas Sabonis. However, he has a reasonable case to be included in one of the two All-Defensive teams and is even a dark horse in the Defensive Player of the Year race behind Brook Lopez and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Adebayo is the heart and soul of Miami’s gritty defense and his ability to switch onto any player is elite. He can cover literally any opposing player from beyond the three-point line to the area under the basket which makes up for the Heat’s thin frontcourt depth. The Heat are seventh in defensive rating this season even without a particularly stellar cast of defenders which is something that is mainly attributed to their star center.

While it may be a longshot to expect Miami to make their third Eastern Conference appearance in four years this season, the presence of Adebayo’s defense and Butler’s timely shotmaking will always make them a tough team to eliminate. This may not be their year, but Adebayo provides them with a building block who is just entering his prime and can ascertain that they will remain competitive for many more years to come.