- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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"I'm looking forward to a huge opportunity tonight," said Bosh, who missed nine games with an abdominal strain. "Starting doesn't matter; I just want to play. Starting is irrelevant at this point; I just want to be on the court."
As with all the players who have played center for the Heat in the series, Bosh isn't really a true center. He and the others spent most of their careers at power forward.
LeBron James said all the changes have had a wearing effect on the team as a whole.
"It's been challenging not just for those of us who have been constants in the starting lineup but for those guys who have been in and out, not knowing if they're going to start or not," James said Thursday as the Heat prepared for an elimination game against the Boston Celtics.
The Heat have started five different players at center this season and seven over the last two years. They are Bosh, Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, Ronny Turiaf, Dexter Pittman, Erick Dampier and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Three other veterans, Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire and Eddy Curry, have played minutes at center off the bench.
"It's been a challenge for all of us," said James, who also has played minutes at center in the series with the Celtics.
"At times it's been hard to get a rhythm starting the game or starting the third quarter. That has been a rotating door for the last two years, not just this series. There's Joel, C.B., U.D. at times, Ronny and Damp and Z. The list goes on in just two years."
The Heat were left without a center when they let Jermaine O'Neal go in 2010 to clear salary-cap space to sign James and Bosh. The team has put the rest of its significant free-agent dollars into wing players like Mike Miller and Shane Battier. The Heat have not made center a priority and instead have attempted to sign players at the end of their careers, to develop young and unproven players and this season mostly have just rotated in the power forwards on their roster to the spot.
The impact has been varied. The Heat have been successful as a team but last season in the Finals, Tyson Chandler played a huge role because he was able to freelance defensively and not worry about guarding his man. The scenario has repeated in the conference finals this season with Kevin Garnett able to "float," as Heat players have called it, and provide help defense that has disrupted the Heat's offensive rhythm.
"They are playing me differently than they've ever played me before," said Dwyane Wade, who has seen regular double teams in the series. "KG is able to play safety out there."
After last season, team president Pat Riley said getting a big man was an offseason priority.
"We would like to get size," Riley said last summer after the Heat lost in the Finals. "I don't know if you're going to get a back-to-the-basket player but we'd like to get size and things of that nature inside that might be a little bit more athletic with great length."
With so much money tied up in James, Bosh and Wade, the Heat have not been a player for top free agents. Then they made Battier their top target in free agency in December and spent most of their money on him. The Heat also have limited trade assets and have traded away four first-round draft picks in deals to get James and Bosh.
The only big man the Heat have signed since last season is Turiaf, who they picked up in March after he was cut by the Denver Nuggets. Two weeks later Turiaf was the starting center, an indication of just what sort of situation the team was in.
"Guys are going to have to play bigger," Riley said in December when he explained why he had not gone with his stated plan of getting a big man.
Spoelstra, who has resorted to playing Battier at power forward to deal with his team's size issues during the playoffs, has given the same answer routinely when asked about the big man situation over the last two years.
"We feel we have enough," Spoelstra has often said.
17hEthan Sherwood Strauss
15hArash Markazi and Ben Alamar
2dAlok Pattani, ESPN Stats & Information