When Greg Oden joined the starting lineup for Miami's game against Houston on Sunday, it seemed to be an arrangement of convenience. His presence, after all, saved Chris Bosh the trouble of having to battle Dwight Howard on the block from the game's outset, and by extension spared Shane Battier from having to keep Terrence Jones off the glass. It was a situational matchup that made plain sense: A big body to guard one of the top centers in the game, and a bigger lineup through and through.
According to Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, though, Sunday's game wasn't just a situational decision. From Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
"My board in my office at the arena looks like the character from Beautiful Mind," Spoelstra said, "and so I have a lot of different scenarios. So it's one of the many scenarios that I've chewed on for the last six weeks or so."
For Spoelstra and the Heat, it is a dramatic change from the small-ball style that produced championships the past two seasons, with lineups that featured the shooting of Chris Bosh and Shane Battier or Mike Miller in the power rotation.
"I've stressed that to our team, that last year's [small-ball] blueprint was for last year," Spoelstra said, "and the more we tried to pigeonhole ourselves into that blueprint, we might not be opening ourselves up to a more successful or necessary blueprint for this year, as the competition has changed. As it's gotten better, our team, our personnel has gotten better. It always changes."
It might be a shift from last year's lineup design, but Spoelstra has since made an effort to build bigger lineup options into the Heat rotation. Bosh and Chris Andersen have played together for almost 300 minutes this season after very rarely doing so during the Heat's 2012-13 title run. That look has served Miami well, as Bosh's expanding range allows him to keep the lane clear for the drives of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Lineups with Bosh and Oden have been dramatically less successful overall by comparison, but the template is there for for the Heat to succeed with two functional bigs on the floor.
Starting Oden helps matters, seeing as the Oden-Bosh tandem has been at its best when flanked by the Heat's other starters. Overall, that group has been outstanding defensively (in extremely limited minutes) but crummy offensively relative to Miami's usual standard. That's where Andersen and Oden differ; thus far Oden has yet to establish himself as a potential scoring threat from anything outside the immediate basket area. He can be spoon-fed for open dunks by any of the Heat's playmakers, but anything requiring a bit more finesse -- even a step past a defender for the slam, or a step under the rim for the reverse -- seems beyond Oden at this point. All of which makes this as appropriate time to note that Oden has played in all of 18 games this season and logged a mere 150 minutes. His rehabilitation is still very much a work in progress, and in Winderman's report Spoelstra makes a point to express concern about using Oden in back-to-back situations ("I don't think I would feel comfortable playing him," Spoelstra said). A starter he may be, but not without caveat. He's awkward on the court, his minutes will be kept down, and as of yet Oden really doesn't register much of an impact. He does, however, have enough potential value that Miami would go to these lengths specifically to work him into the mix. The payoff therein could easily make the effort worthwhile.