Greg Oden gives Heat some size for newest showdown with Pacers

Greg Oden has appeared in 21 games and made five starts for the Heat this season.

Steve Mitchell/Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI — The Heat flew out of South Florida on Tuesday afternoon with a 7-foot wall available for use against rival Indiana for the first time this season.

Greg Oden, who this season restarted a career derailed by knee injuries, likely will start against Pacers and 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert when the two Eastern Conference powers play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday night in Indianapolis.

"I think he knows why we brought him here," LeBron James said of Oden. "I think he looks at it as an opportunity to see how far along he’s come, as well.

"Obviously, it’s not personal between him and Hibbert at all, but he wants to see where he can measure up at this point in his career, as well as this point in the season for us."

The Heat (48-21) head into the season’s third meeting — the teams split two December games — trailing the conference-leading Pacers (51-20) by two games (one in the loss column). The rivals will play their final regular-season game at AmericanAirlines Arena on April 11.

Miami defeated Indiana in last year’s seven-game conference finals, but Hibbert proved to be a major force in the paint. He averaged 22.1 points on 56 percent shooting, and 10.4 rebounds.

It was clear to many people the Heat needed inside help to contend with a young, up-and-coming team. Guard Dwyane Wade, however, wasn’t convinced.

"We won," said Wade, who is expected to start after missing Monday night’s win against Portland due to a strained left Achilles’ tendon. "(Hibbert) always plays well against us, always, that’s no secret about that. But a lot of guys plays well against us."

Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra obviously thought Oden could help, though Spoelstra downplayed the Indiana effect following Tuesday’s practice.

"Him being available is what made us interested in him," Spoelstra said. "I was about to go on vacation but I canceled all that to go meet with Greg Oden. He’s a big-time talent, and that’s why we went after a player like that."

Oden has averaged 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 21 games, including five starts. He’ll go against Hibbert (11.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) after playing a season-high 15:13 against the Trail Blazers on Monday.

"If I have a terrible game and Hibbert has a good game and we win, that’s all that matters," Oden said. "It’s not about who has the better game, it’s about winning the game."

The two big men faced each other in the 2007 Final Four in which Oden’s Ohio State Buckeyes defeated Hibbert’s Georgetown Hoyas to reach the national title game. Both players were limited in that game — Hibbert 24 minutes, Oden 20 — due to foul trouble.

Speaking outside the Heat locker room before leaving for the airport Tuesday, Oden said the key in defending a big man is positioning more than strength.

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"With a guy like that, he can shoot over anybody, he’s 7-2," Oden said. "For me, I got to be able to not let him get right in front of the rim, and make sure I get big and he has somebody he has to look over when he shoots."

Miami had dropped seven of 11 games before beating the Blazers thanks to Chris Bosh’s block of Damian Lillard’s layup attempt in the final seconds. Indiana lost at Chicago on Monday night to make it seven defeats in 12 games.

Bosh said a game played amid a playoff-like atmosphere is just what struggling teams might need.

"This is a springboard for both teams," Bosh said. "We’ve both been struggling, but at the end of the day, it’s about who gets caught in the matrix — who can tell what’s real and not real. It’s a good opportunity for both teams."

James and Wade agreed.

"Two teams that have a dislike, that want to beat each other," Wade said. "I think you can throw the struggles, the records, what we’ve been going through out the window."

"It’s a big game — we’re not going to shy away from it," James said. "We’re going into an environment we may potentially see in the postseason. We want to see where we can be at right now."

Just like their 7-foot center.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.