Greg Oden to start vs. former team
Not only will Oden play, but Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra indicated after Monday's shootaround that Oden would get his fifth start of the season.
The Blazers, in fifth place in a loaded Western Conference, drafted Oden No. 1 overall in 2007. Injuries limited the promising big man to 82 games before he was waived in 2012.
When asked about his emotions heading into Monday's game, Oden said he is focused on helping the Heat get back on track. The two-time defending champions have dropped seven of their past 11 games.
"It's a game we need to win," Oden said. "It's just about this team and us getting a win right now."
Any personal motivation?
"I would like to win," Oden said with a smile.
However, getting that win could prove more difficult for the Heat because Dwyane Wade is doubtful for Monday's game as he deals with another leg injury, this time a sprained ankle. Spoelstra said Wade suffered the "tweak" on Wednesday against the Celtics and played through the injury Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
After he sat out Saturday's game, Monday would be the 19th game that Wade, who has dealt with troublesome knees this season, has missed. The Heat are 11-7 without Wade and enter Monday's game three games behind the Indiana Pacers for the No. 1 seed in the East. By sitting out Saturday's and Monday's games, Wade would earn himself four days off before Wednesday's showdown against the similarly reeling Pacers.
The Blazers are a different team from the one Oden knew. After a roster turnover in recent years, LaMarcus Aldridge is the only Blazer who played in Oden's final game in a Portland uniform, on Dec. 5, 2009.
"I'm sure it'll be special for him," Spoelstra said. "This has been a four-year journey for him just to get to this point. He's put in a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes. We couldn't be happier for him to get to this point."
Despite his history with the Blazers, Oden did not circle March 24 on the calendar.
"Every game I play is basically a circled date," Oden said. "I'm not trying to look at any team just because I used to play for them. I'm just happy to be playing out there against anybody."
Having dealt with multiple knee surgeries, Oden repeated Monday that he contemplated retirement while he was out and there was doubt that he'd ever return.
"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't," Oden said. "There have been some ups and downs, but I'm here now."
How would he characterize how his body feels after playing 20 games this season?
"I'm playing," Oden said. "That's all that matters."
The Heat hope Monday becomes a turning point in the season. LeBron James and Chris Bosh both voiced frustration after Saturday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. James called out the team for using too many excuses for its play, and Bosh was upset with the team's lack of communication.
"We're not expressing ourselves in the locker room or on the court," Bosh said Saturday. "So I figure I'll be the first one to say it -- we suck. And if we don't play better, we'll be watching the championship at home."
The Heat took Sunday off after playing four games in five nights but used Monday's shootaround as a "work" day, according to Spoelstra.
The coach downplayed the significance of Bosh's and James' comments.
"Yes, that will stir up emotions," Spoelstra said. "Those emotions now have to motivate us to play better. I don't mind any of that. Everybody probably makes a way bigger deal of it than it is.
"That's what this game does to you, it brings you to the brink. As long as these guys come at it with purity, that they care, that's what you need. We all probably need a lapse of sanity right now."
There's not much to be happy about lately for the Heat, who have hit one of their biggest rough patches since James, Wade and Bosh came together in the summer of 2010. But one player who will be in good spirits on Monday night is Oden, a starter in his past three appearances with the Heat.
"Every game I play," Oden said, "I'm happy."
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