Basketball / Sports

Heat's Haslem ready for return to starting lineup, matchup with Pacers' Hibbert

MIAMI -- While he sat on the bench for all but three minutes of this past playoff series against the Nets, salivating at his next chance to contribute for the Heat, Udonis Haslem was rigorously preparing for the Eastern Conference finals.

"He was doing his extra work, the stuff behind the scenes that no one sees, to get prepared for this series," Dwyane Wade said after Friday's practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. "He knew his number was going to be called. And it's going to be called a lot."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn't reveal anything Friday about his rotation against the Pacers, noting only that "UD will be in the mix." But it's a safe bet Haslem will again be in the starting lineup as he was for all four games of a first-round sweep of the Bobcats. Asked if he expected to see Haslem on the floor at the start of Game 1 Sunday in Indianapolis, LeBron James answered simply, "Yep."

The veteran Haslem (6-foot-8, 235) was effective against Indiana's Roy Hibbert (7-2, 290) while matched up on him in the teams' final two regular-season meetings, and his ability to thwart the inconsistent center in this series will be key.

Hibbert averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds in last year's Eastern Conference finals against the Heat. And in Indiana's two wins against Miami this season, Hibbert scored 24 and 21 points on 58.6 percent shooting. In Miami's two wins, he tallied just six and five points on 4-of-10 shooting.

"UD just loves these moments," Wade said. "Obviously, he's not as big as (Hibbert), but he's a fighter, a competitor. He loves that game in the paint that the big guys play. It's his opportunity to put his stamp on the game and the series when we play those guys.

"We're happy we're able to go to UD to be the guy that we give the nod to and say, 'We need you in this series to be able to win it.' "

Added LeBron of Haslem: "He's a tough rebounder. He defends at a high level and he's tough-minded. He's a guy that has won three championships, who knows what it takes to win and he's going to give everything -- blood, sweat and tears -- to our team to help us win. You love that."

Haslem downplayed his previous success against Hibbert.

"It's not going to be me against Hibbert. It's a five-man defensive effort. I do my part, do the best I possibly can, and we rely on each other to make rotations," Haslem said. "I just play hard, try to be ahead of every possession, compete. Know his tendencies and try to take away the things he likes to do."

Haslem's ability to make his patented baseline jumper also will be important. "He's a big part of their defense clogging up that paint, so we're going to have to get him out of there," Haslem said of Hibbert. "I'm going to get to my spot. My guys will find me if I'm open, and I'll do my job."

Oden waits

Center Greg Oden has played just one game -- 14 minutes in the meaningless regular-season finale against Philadelphia -- since starting and playing just six minutes in a March 26 loss at Indiana.

Inactive for the Nets series, the 7-foot, 273-pound Oden, who grew up in Indianapolis, "can help" against the Pacers, Spoelstra said Friday, adding, "He's been working out. He's been ready. He knows the deal."

Said Oden: "There's going to be a lot of big guys going, and I've just got to be ready if my name's called. ... If I don't (play) and we win, I'm perfectly fine with that. All that matters is that I'm ready."

Asked if he's feels any rust, Oden noted, "I couldn't tell you. I haven't played."

Behind the arc

The Heat shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, but just 27.3 percent against the Pacers, making just 5 of 21, 6 of 16, 4 of 21 and 6 of 19 in their four matchups.

"They're a very good defensive team," Spoelstra said. "They were that way last year, and if you don't move the defense and play with appropriate pace, which is so important for us, and ball movement, than they can get you late in the (shot)clock taking the shots they want you to take and not the ones you want to take."

Chris Bosh, who has added 3-point shooting to his arsenal, should have plenty of good looks against the Pacers, Wade said, "and he could have a big series for us." Bosh, who said he's the most comfortable he's ever been in his career firing threes, doesn't mind taking numerous shots.

"We're going to have candid conversations over the series, especially if they don't pass the ball back to me," Bosh deadpanned about his teammates.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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