SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
No players, aside from the Big Three, generate more curiosity from Heat fans than Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. And the final five weeks of the regular season offer interesting storylines, and questions, for each.
With Oden, the issue is whether he can become a 20-minute-a-game player in time for a likely Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana. For Beasley, it’s whether he develops the trust of this coaching staff to earn regular postseason minutes, something that seems more of a possibility now than previously.
Oden, who has played just five minutes in each of his past two appearances, said he’s fine with how he’s being used but “would hope” to get to 20 minutes or so eventually when he does play. He’s averaging 8.3 minutes and hasn’t played more than 13 in any game.
“I want to make sure my knee doesn’t swell up – that’s the big concern,” he said. “But the knee has been pretty good. I’m happy with the progress. Some games they need me, some they don’t. I’m still not where I want to be, more so offensively. I want to start making the jump hook that I’m missing. When I get a chance to play, I just don’t want to mess up.”
Coach Erik Spoelstra said he feels no urgency to increase Oden’s minutes, even though some national TV analysts say he needs to take the training wheels off Oden and play him more.
“I know everybody has a taste of it and wants to start fast-tracking and pushing the envelope a little more,” Spoelstra said. “That is not in our vocabulary, not in our thought process. We want to keep him to the point where he’s still available. If we can continue that, after so many games and weeks, we’ll re-evaluate. I feel comfortable with the minutes he’s been able to give from a conditioning standpoint.”
Oden has made 59 percent of his shots on offense (19 for 32, most on dunks) but is just 2 for 7 on post-ups. Defensively, though Tim Duncan backed him down for a basket and foul on Thursday, his work has been very good, with opponents shooting 13 for 33 against him (39 percent).
The Heat has outscored teams by five in Oden’s 124 minutes, but Miami is plus 18 when Oden plays with Chris Bosh (75 minutes) and minus 13 in Oden’s 49 minutes without Bosh.
"I'm happy for him,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “I root for him more than I ever rooted for anybody. I knock on wood and cross my fingers every day he stays healthy."
As for Beasley, Spoelstra showed considerable faith by playing him 21 minutes against the Spurs, marking the fifth time in six games he has logged at least 18. He had been held out of four of the previous six games.
Ray Allen calls Beasley the team’s “best scorer,” and his 51.4 shooting percentage is by far a career high, well above his 45.1 career mark. He’s third on team and 29th in the league (minimum 40 games) in points per 48 minutes at 26.0. He made two exemplary defensive plays Thursday night, and the player he’s guarding is shooting just 36.3 percent this season, according to Synergysports.com.
So why was his role reduced for a few weeks, beyond defensive lapses? This is telling: During his first 19 appearances, Miami outscored opponents by 62 with Beasley in the game. But Miami was outscored by 78 in his next 15 appearances, during which his playing time plunged. In eight games since, Miami is plus 23 with Beasley on the court.
Over the past month, Beasley said his defensive grades have been “some good, some bad.” And he said he still gets yelled at sometimes for passing up open shots.
Despite the inconsistent minutes, has this experience still been enjoyable for him?
“Definitely,” he said. “To be around this group of guys is a privilege. Guys I’ve looked up to since I was 6, 7 years old. Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James. It’s like a family here.”
Does it bother him to get pulled quickly sometimes? “I’m in it for the big picture,” he said. “If my contribution only consists of 40 seconds then I play those seconds hard.”
Could he honestly have said, three years ago, that if it he played just 40 seconds, he would be OK with that?
“No,” he said. “But that comes with maturity. It comes with knowing who you’re playing with, who you’re playing behind and knowing the big picture…. It’s not in my control. If I could control it, I’d be playing 48 minutes. Everybody would.”
He said his most progress has come “on the mental side, staying ready…. I’m my biggest critic. There is so much I can work on, on both sides of the floor. I see it every game. I’m getting better, learning every day.”
His attitude has not been an issue, Heat people say. The maturity is evident in several ways, including the fact he arrives early for practice and no longer collects cars (real ones) as toys (he’s gone from 11, as a rookie, to three). “He has been great, embraced the routine,” Spoelstra said.
Said Shane Battier: “We don’t have time to play games. Guys who come into this locker-room understand that. Whatever issues they had in the past we don’t seem to have here. We’re about winning here and that’s all that matters. Michael has been that way since day one. He’s really tried to make an effort. He hasn’t had the habits a lot of us have had but he’s tried.”
Teammates threw him a surprise 25th birthday party in New York in February. “I’m the youngest one on the team so everyone treats me like a little brother,” he said. “Every one wants to see me do good. If I’m messing up, one guy gets on me, the other 12 follow. We love each other genuinely.”
The Heat hasn’t told him if it wants him back next season, and that decision won’t be made until the summer.
### For the first time since April 2003, the Heat has gone two straight games without ever holding a lead. LeBron James hadn't done that since his rookie season with Cleveland, per Elias.
### The Dolphins have told people that even after addressing the offensive line in free agency, it will still be a heavy focus in the draft. Even beyond Notre Dame’s Zack Martin (a potential pick at No. 19), they’ve shown interest in several other guard/tackles, including Michigan’s Michael Schofield and North Dakota State’s Billy Turner.
### Though some other agents bristle at their belief that Dawn Aponte is wielding more power than ever before in shaping the Dolphins’ contract offers, there has been some positive feedback on the revamped front office, too. For example, Chris Clemons’ representatives appreciated that general manager Dennis Hickey gave them a heads-up before Louis Delmas visited. (They have different agents.) The Dolphins have entered into discussions with Delmas' representation, incidentally.
### It's good that Joe Philbin and Hickey are watching film together every morning, because the coach and GM must forge a similar vision for players that Hickey acquires. For example, former GM Jeff Ireland viewed Michael Egnew as a stretch-the-field tight end and was frustrated that the coaching staff never used him as a seam threat and instead made him a pseudo blocking fullback. Something like that is less likely to happen now.
### Dan Uggla, made available by the Braves, would love to return here, but the Marlins passed, with Uggla due $26 million over the next two seasons and Atlanta unwilling to absorb all of that.
### A few UM spring observations: Coaches are very encouraged by the play of safety Deon Bush; they believe he’s back to the form he showed as a freshman before struggling through last year’s sports hernia. “That held me back [last year] with running, cutting and explosiveness,” he said. “I feel better than ever now.” Jamal Carter is making a strong case to win the other safety job, though he must beat out Rayshawn Jenkins when Jenkins returns from injury. UM wants more consistent play from Jenkins….. Freshman cornerback Ryan Mayes has surprised; he’s fast, long and covers a lot of ground.... Coaches like the pass-rush potential of linebacker Darrion Owens, who appears to be ahead of Juwon Young, the other early-enrollee linebacker.
### David Beckham’s group needs another month to determine the viability of building a stadium big enough to share with UM football, and that remains a toss-up at best. And even if Beckham can build a 40,000-seat stadium (UM's absolute minimum requirement for seating), UM still would need to escape the final 18 years of its Sun Life lease.