It's been a rough few weeks for the Heat and when you're the current champions in somewhat of a losing funk? Well, you're going to get slammed. Not wanting to further add to the media onslaught of late, the Heat pulled off the win against the Houston Rockets on Sunday but not before surprising us all with the decision to start Greg Oden.
We've come a long way from last October when the basketball world was struck alight with Oden's first dunk back after four years out of the game. The emotion and optimism poured out onto the pages of hundreds of articles on premise we may just see some Oden magic after all.
Even after that preseason dunk, Oden starting in a Heat uniform seemed near impossible. However, he pushed through and came out the other end a regular fixture, all while on route to the playoffs. Still, it was obvious on Sunday that Oden is far from being the game-changer we'd all love to witness. While struggling to keep up with the agility and pace of Dwight Howard, Oden was exposed under the rim when Howard blocked an easy two-points for Oden. He did manage six rebounds but they were overshadowed by his four fouls and his poor offense.
Miami has used Oden sparingly this season. They've sprinkled him in throughout games in small doses, keeping his minutes down and never over-exerting him on a rare back-to-back. No doubt Oden's fitness has progressed but in today's era, one of pace and sheer brutal vigor, at times he's still looked lost against the games' top opponents.
Passing over the opportunity to sign Andrew Bynum showed the amount of faith the Heat camp have of their roster and Oden. While Bynum has already packed a punch with a squad consisting of Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola, the methodical process continues with Oden means we likely won't see too much of him in the postseason, at least not this year.
You can sugar coat it all you like but Oden simply doesn't match powerhouse Hibbert, Howard or Joakim Noah, not at the moment anyway. And that right there is how these questions come to the surface. In time, does Oden have the ability to continually hinder his opponents? We know in small blasts he's capable but with only 5 weeks until the playoffs only a miracle could seem him progress to the tempo of the NBA's biggest defenders.
Now I'm not ignorant. I understand Oden's past battles with depression and the extensive rehab but how much longer are we going to keep saying how great he's progressing and start expecting a bit more? Are we still going to still be making excuses for his pace next season? The one after?
Chris Andersen, however, has been playing like a beast and beasts will always be favored when chasing a championship. Like his teammate Chris Bosh, the Heat's defensive rating suffers when Andersen is off the court. For Oden, it's the opposite.
With Andersen turning 36 this year, it's thought the Heat will be on the lookout for a big man, preferably one they can add to the rotation, just like they're now doing with Oden. The Heat will never turn back on their decision to not look into Bynum but it won't stop the "what if's". While I've stated before that it's going to be such a good, tough series against the Pacers should they both meet, the Pacers now have the option to bring in Bynum when Hibbert is off. While the Heat should close out the series, this in turn could make things a lot harder than originally thought, especially if Miami's offense suffers the similar way we have seen as of late.
Be it Oden or an inconsistent LeBron James at the rim, come playoffs, these faults will be expected to be ironed out, lineups finalized, and the mental fatigue gone. And to quote a fan leaving the arena yesterday, "Despite all the crap, they're still the Miami Heat".