MIAMI — It appears the Miami Heat’s regular-season experiment with Greg Oden could become a postseason reality.
The 7-foot center, limited to one game in the past 22 partly due to a nagging back injury, apparently is close to being able to contribute.
Following Friday’s practice, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spoke as if Oden could be back in the mix when the Heat and Indiana Pacers play Eastern Conference finals Game 3 on Saturday night.
”He’s had a great week of work,” Spoelstra said. ”We’ll find out tomorrow.”
”I’m definitely ready whenever he needs me,” said Oden, who last played in the regular-season finale.
Signed to a one-year deal before the season, in large part to oppose Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, the former No. 1 overall draft pick struggled big time in his first encounter with the 7-foot-2 Pacers center.
Oden started and played little more than six minutes in Indiana’s home win on March 26. He had two points, two blocks and a rebound but was overwhelmed by Hibbert, who scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half.
It would be unrealistic to think Oden might start Game 3 or that Spoelstra plans to give him significant minutes. But foul trouble to Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Chris ”Birdman” Anderson, or Hibbert going off again, could be scenarios in which Oden gets the call.
”He hasn’t been out on the floor as far as contact — we haven’t had any contact in a while,” LeBron James said of Oden. ”If he gets he nod, I think it would be an adjustment for him.”
Being forced to watch playoff games from the bench hasn’t been as difficult for Oden as one might assume.
”If I don’t play and we win, I’m just as happy,” Oden said. ”I know they brought me here to be a big body, another big opponent to help stop Roy, but U.D., C.B. and Bird have been doing a good job.
”I’m all about the team. I want to get in there and I want to help, but if they don’t need my help and we win, I’m perfectly happy.”
Oden was asked what he took away from his March 26 performance.
”I need to be more active,” Oden said. ”I was kind of just battling Hibbert and he got some tough shots. This time, I got to do what I can to be a title bit more active and disrupt his rhythm.”
After not playing in a regular-season NBA game since December 2009, Oden made his Heat debut at Washington on Jan. 15 and ended up playing in 23 games (six starts). He was in uniform for the first-round series against Charlotte, but has been inactive since then.
”I wasn’t worried about the season being missed,” Oden said. ”For me, just being on the court, camaraderie — going into the playoffs you want to have all those things down pat. That’s really the only thing I worried about.”
Oden’s size could challenge Hibbert, who dominated Miami in last year’s Eastern Conference finals despite the Heat winning in seven games.
”The one thing he does well on us — and obviously we’re not a big team — is he gets offensive position on us where he’s able to get easy touches to get his rhythm,” Dwyane Wade said of Hibbert.
”If he has a game where he explodes, we got to figure out a way to not let someone else explode.”
With all focus on a Heat three-peat, Oden said he hasn’t thought about where he will be next season.
”I haven’t really though that far,” he said. ”I’m still just happy to be on this team and have the chance to win the championship. That’s all I really think about these days.
”This is the furthest I’ve ever been in the playoffs, so I’m happy.”