The 7-2, 260-pounder ruled the interior in the first meeting this season, just as he had in last season’s NBA Eastern Conference finals, which the Heat pulled out in seven games.
He was pretty much the Pacers’ only offensive weapon in the first quarter, scoring nine of his team’s 19 points as the Heat went up by 11, and he finished the game with 24 points on very efficient, 10-of-15 shooting from the field.
Though he was credited with just one blocked shot, he altered several more attempts, including one key drive by the Heat’s LeBron James late in the game.
Hibbert had only five rebounds, but his mere presence helped the Pacers to a 43-33 advantage on the boards, and they outscored the Heat 14-5 in “second chance” points.
Which brings us back to Oden.
Oden, of course, did not play on this night and is yet to make an appearance in the regular season for the Heat. He played briefly in one exhibition.
But he wasn’t brought in to impact so-called “statement games” in December but to be ready by the time the playoffs begin in April with a potential clash with the Pacers another month away.
At 7-feet, 273 pounds, Oden has the size the Heat need to counter Hibbert’s ability to take over a game in the low post, if his wobbly knees will allow him to.
He won’t have to completely negate Hibbert, who has developed his shooting skills since the Toronto Raptors made him the 17th player picked in the 2008 draft before immediately dealing him to the Pacers. He just has to provide enough muscle in spot duty to make Hibbert work a little harder for his points and rebounds.
But that’s in the distant future. Oden’s rehabilitation from the injuries that sidelined him four years ago will continue for now, and we likely won’t begin to see the results of that project until February.
In the meantime, the Heat will continue to carry on, which, despite the loss to the Pacers, they have been doing very well.
The Heat are 16-6 on the season, which, interestingly, is the same record they last year after 22 games.
Also, the Heat, whose loss to the Pacers gave them a 2-2 record on their four-game, six-day road trip, now have their next five games at home, starting with a visit by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBATV).
That stretch includes the second of four meetings with the Pacers, this one Wednesday (Dec. 18) in AmericanAirlines Arena. It is scheduled for a national telecast on ESPN with a 7:30 p.m. ET start.