The Miami Heat now have lost three games in a row for the first time in two years, which is cause for some concern because of the way the 114-97 loss to the Wizards at Washington went Wednesday night.
The Heat, as has become too common in recent outings, came out and fell behind in the first half, this time by an insurmountable, not to mention embarrassing, 34 points in the second quarter.
Still, much of the post-game talk was on another topic.
The big center who hadn’t played in a regular-season NBA game since 2009 entered the contest with 6:03 left in the second quarter and 17 seconds later had his first basket on a dunk from a pass by teammate LeBron James.
He ended up playing a total of 8 minutes, 24 seconds, scoring six points on two field goals and two free throws, grabbing two rebounds, and getting whistled for one foul.
“We’ve been talking about progressing him for the last two or three weeks,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Oden, a former No. 1 draft choice who has had to contend with knee injuries throughout his career. “He’s been doing a lot of three-on-three and four-on-four scrimmaging with the guys.
“Today we had an open spot so I really was just gong to suit him up, then if I had a moment to but him in for a couple of minutes I would, but otherwise he was just going to be there.
“As soon as we went down by 30, might as well just reward him for the work he has put in.”
Spoelstra’s first impression of the 7-foot, 273-pounder’s play?
“You see the size and activity,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a skilled player for somebody that big.”
The “spot” that Spoelstra mentioned was available because the Heat earlier in the day traded away reserve center Joel Anthony, who has seen his role diminish because of his limited offensive skills. Backup forward Chris Andersen also was inactive with a knee injury.
The deal with Anthony, who went to the Celtics, had financial implications because, according to reports, the Heat will save nearly $7.7 million in salary and luxury taxes this season and next.
But it also may be an indication that the Heat are happy with the way Oden is progressing and believe he will eventually fulfill the role as interior muscle man when the Heat go into the playoffs.
With the way the Indiana Pacers are playing this season and how their physicality was a major factor in their being able to push the Heat to seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, rebounding and interior defense was an issue the Heat are going to have to address this time around.
Not that Oden is going to step in and play big minutes right away. Patience is the key as sports history is littered with examples of players who pushed too hard coming back from injuries and never got back to their previous form.
But it looks as if he will get his spots as the Heat go about trying to set a rotation before beginning defense of their title.
The Heat have a particularly busy stretch coming up with five games over a seven-day stretch.
Included are two back-to-back affairs with the Heat at Philadelphia on Friday and at Charlotte on Saturday, then at Atlanta on Monday and at home against Boston on Tuesday.
The busy week ends with a home game against the Los Angeles Lakers next Thursday (Jan. 23).