It’s an ever-changing milestone for Greg Oden. Every day that he is in the NBA and healthy is the most important day for Oden in his return from a four-year absence from the league.
Oden started his first game for the Heat on Sunday in Miami’s 93-79 victory against the Bulls, and the big center is finally becoming familiar with the Heat’s offense and defense at this important time of the season. But the former No. 1 overall pick still isn’t focusing on the day-to-day minutia or his impact to the team. Oden’s big-picture perspective is unwavering.
He’s just happy to be here.
“For me, each game getting better and walking off healthy — they’re all milestones to me,” said Oden, who is attempting to revive his career after a series of knee injuries. “It has been a long road, so every one is a good one for me.”
Sunday might have been the best of all. He started his first game since December 2009 and played nearly 13 minutes in Miami’s victory. During his brief time in the game, Oden matched up against Bulls center Joakim Noah and had five points and five rebounds.
“He’s an active player for someone that big,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He makes multiple efforts, he gives you extra possessions and he’s very intelligent, so he has a pretty good grasp of what we want and how we want to play already.”
With LeBron James out with a broken nose, Spoelstra went to Oden for his size inside against the Bulls and also to keep the Heat’s second unit somewhat intact. Chicago is one of the league’s most aggressive rebounding teams and it showed early. The Bulls held a 32-19 rebounding advantage after the first half.
“We knew the minutes would be short for Greg still — 10 to 12 minutes — so we figure that [it would] be best to get him in that starting lineup,” Spoelstra said. “We get to keep our rotations somewhat similar.”
Oden said he could have played more than 13 minutes, which is a positive sign for the Heat. He is expected to be an important piece in the playoffs, especially against teams such as the Bulls and Indiana Pacers, which feature big frontcourts.
On a contending team for the first time in his career, Oden is following the lead of his more experienced teammates and Oden’s health is returning just in time for the Heat’s playoff push.
“They’ve all been through this before,” Oden said. “This is one of my first times going through this. This is that push you’ve got to get for first place. That’s what we are aiming for right now the next push is going to be when the playoffs come.”
When that time comes, Oden expects to be fully versed in the Heat’s system. For now, he’s still learning, even though he’s gaining familiarity daily.
“I know the plays a little bit better,” Oden said. “I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable out there and I think guys are starting to feel a little more comfortable with me out there, so it’s still something we can build on, but I just think the comfort level, being able to put me in that starting lineup, it showed some confidence in me.”
Spoelstra at 300
Sunday marked the 300th victory of Spoelstra’s career. The sixth-year coach is the sixth fastest coach to reach the milestone in NBA history. Pat Riley did it the fastest.
“Pat was the one who told me,” Spoelstra said. “It’s amazing just how fast those six years have gone. It feels like yesterday sometimes. But in terms of this team since we put it together, obviously, I feel extremely fortunate. Not only to be working for a first-class organization, but to be able to coach a team like this.”
Said Chris Bosh: “He’s got 300 wins? He’s lucky, man.”