Oden gives glimpse of hope in Heat win

Oden plays, Wade sits in the twin stories to watch to June

Sun-Sentinel Heat writer Ira Winderman talks Miami Heat

MIAMI — What the regular season is about for the Heat, more than a run of too-close games, came into view just before half Tuesday. Boston's Jeff Green took a pass in the corner and drove past LeBron James.

Green found an open lane to the basket. He went up for the dunk.

Whereupon Greg Oden met him. And blocked him.

And, just like that, the player Heat fans have waited months to see in person introduced himself in the best of all manners. A chunk of the crowd stood to cheer him.


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LeBron moved to him and — how do you put this? — gave a congratulatory slap to his backside. It was a slap of "Hello." It was a slap of "Nice job."

You'd like to say it was a slap that signaled the Heat waking up this regular season, but that's taking the symbolism too far. Especially when the Heat languished to a 92-86 win.

But what happened Tuesday was bigger than one night's scoreboard. Oden's knees allowed him to play for the third time this year. Dwyane Wade's knee didn't let him play for the third straight game.

For better and worse — and there will be nights of each with these two knees — these are the issues that will decide the Heat's June as everyone moves with half interest through January toward February.

"Remember Who We Are" was a message Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had written on a paper at each player's locker before Tuesday's game to try to spur some interest. LeBron didn't want to answer what that meant.

"Ask Spo,'' he said.

But the idea was clear after a stretch where the Heat lost four of six games to teams named the Knicks, Nets, Wizards and Hawks. Remember to play like champs, Spoelstra was saying. Remember to play with some professional pride.

It's a message needing to be said, if not loudly pushed, because January is January. It's not March. That's when the issues of absent defense and absent Wade will settle in more seriously.

It's certainly not April, which will be the final tune-up session to see just where Wade and Oden stand with the Indiana series coming into view.

You saw a glimpse of what Oden can bring on Tuesday night. Five minutes and 34 seconds, to be exact.

It wasn't just the block that brought such backside-slapping glee. He went down to the other and dunked in a rebound. He then ran back on defense and helped set a trap that drew a turnover.

Oh, he missed a couple of shots. He looked on some plays like sedimentary layers of rust still had to be scraped off.

But these remain the first baby steps for Oden after four years without playing. The Heat is choosing the slow path for his return, just as it is with Wade's return. Wade is the bigger player, obviously, the more important knee to heal.

"It's just part of the process,'' Spoelstra said of Wade sitting out Tuesday's game. "You can't predict it. You're going to have some good days and some days where you don't feel great."

Spoelstra was then asked what he expects moving forward. His words about Wade. They worked just as well for Oden.

"What we try to do is not predetermine and have expectations about it,'' he said. "We know as long as we stick to the routine he should get better, quicker and stronger. We've seen those type of results."

Wade is the player the Heat needs to be the Heat. He's the talent alongside LeBron that makes them a team that couldn't be matched these last couple of years.

But Oden could have a place, too. Just what that place is and how many minutes it means are questions looking for answers. Could he play 12 minutes against Indiana's big Roy Hibbert in late May? Fifteen minutes?

The Heat won a close game against Boston on Tuesday. But it is on issues like Wade and Oden this regular season swings. One didn't play Tuesday. One did. We'll see in May what it means.

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