- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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A combination of injuries and absences has forced Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to surround LeBron James with some unconventional lineups over the past few games to mixed results.
But James isn’t sure whether all the shuffling will have a long-term benefit for the Heat, who returned to practice Thursday after finishing 2-2 on their recent road trip.
“It’s challenging right now because we’ve got so many guys in and out of the lineup,” James said of Spoelstra’s patchwork rotation. “We haven’t really got a great rhythm, especially with our first unit. But we have the luxury of guys coming in and having different lineups. That’s always a plus.”
Over those four games, Miami has used lineups that included two point guards -- Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole -- on the court with James when the team needed to get more speed. During the final two games of the trip against Detroit and Indiana, the Heat used Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen with James to add size.
Heat players and coaches have lauded the team’s versatility and depth throughout the season, but there’s hardly been a full week when Miami has had its full complement of players available. Dwyane Wade has already missed six games, including two on the recent trip, and Michael Beasley has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury.
As a result, Spoelstra’s options have been limited, and it’s been a revolving door with the rotation.
“Our guys understand versatility is a big strength of our roster, and you can’t control injuries,” Spoelstra said Thursday. “But when you have depth, you build confidence that you’ll be able to withstand some of those unpredictable things. And we’ve proven we have. You have to have the right type of pros that can do that. But that hasn’t really been the issue, the reason we were .500 on the road trip.”
Establishing continuity has been an issue for the Heat. But James hopes that some of the flexibility shown in recent games will come in handy when -- or rather, if -- the Heat’s rotation is eventually whole.
“You don’t know until you get to that situation,” James said of the Heat, who will have had three days off before opening a five-game homestand Saturday against Cleveland. “The fact that we have enough guys that can step in when guys are out of the lineup is a luxury. But you don’t know how it will work in a big-time game when you have everyone. It’s easier to place guys in when guys are out. But when we have everyone, can we still continue that same method? So we’ll see.”
During the Heat’s stop in Indiana, Pacers center Roy Hibbert said he looks forward to eventually picking on a center his own size when Greg Oden is healthy enough to play for Miami.
But based on most inside accounts, Oden continues to progress at his own pace and largely outside of the Heat’s daily practice structure. On occasions when Oden does go through on-court work with his Miami teammates, Bosh is among those who don’t pass up the chance to offer encouragement.
Bosh said Thursday that he’s told Oden about the role former Heat swingman Mike Miller had, which included plenty of rehab work and inactivity on game nights before his opportunity came in the playoffs.
“I try to keep reminding [Oden] about Mike. That was kind of the capacity Mike was in when he was here. He didn’t play that much, and he was frustrated,” Bosh said of Miller, who was released by the Heat in the summer with the amnesty provision. “He went through the regular human emotions that came with not being able to play a lot. But he stuck with it, and when we needed him, that’s when he really came through for us.”
Bosh said Oden continues to show signs of steady progress as he works to strengthen his knees and improve his conditioning, with hopes of making his regular-season debut with the Heat at some point soon.
“He’s coming along good,” Bosh said of Oden, who has been unavailable for media interviews in recent weeks. “I know it’s a very, very long season and a long process. So they’re bringing him along slowly. It’s no rush. We need him to be healthy just like everybody else. When he’s ready, he’ll be out there.”
Beasley, who has missed the past three games with a strained left hamstring, was able to do some warm-up work and conditioning before Thursday’s practice, but he isn’t sure when he’ll return to game action.
“The soreness has definitely gone away, but it’s just now about strengthening it back up,” Beasley said. “I walk out of here feeling like tomorrow is the day. But then I do a little bit in the weight room, and it just gets fatigued. That’s one thing I don’t want to happen is to rush it. A hamstring is one of those nagging forever things, so I definitely want to take care of it early and deal with it the right way.”
Beasley said it was especially difficult sitting on the bench Tuesday in Indiana, unable to help the Heat as they scored just 37 points in the second half on the way to a 90-84 loss to the Pacers.
“It hurt me because there were so many different situations I could have helped better the team, with scoring and more importantly on the defensive side,” he said. “But it’s definitely tough watching.”
DID YOU KNOW
James was the leading vote-getter overall in Thursday’s first release of the All-Star ballot, with 609,336 votes. James is slightly ahead of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, who had 607,407 votes for the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans. Wade leads the way for a backcourt starting spot in the East, with 396,279 votes.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“We’re going day by day around here, man. So with the Wade watch, keep watching, I guess. We’re all day to day. That’s what I’ve been saying.”
– Dwyane Wade, when asked if he plans to play in all five games of the Heat’s upcoming homestand
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