Greg Oden expanding pregame workouts, getting closer to return with Heat

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When Miami took a chance this offseason by signing Greg Oden to a one-year minimum salary contract, it wasn’t necessarily to add depth to the team for the long grind of the regular season.

The acquisition was purely a long-term strategy, one that hoped to bring in another serviceable big body to battle the size of the Heat’s most formidable foes in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers.

There has never been any hurry to get Oden back onto the floor in the first part of the season. But he’s been ramping up his workout regimen as of late, and by all appearances he’s getting closer to being able to contribute meaningful minutes for the defending champs.

From Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report:

Oden, traveling with the Miami Heat on their West Coast road trip, has been expanding his pregame workouts. Friday, prior to the Heat’s game with Sacramento, the center spent about 20 minutes working with Heat assistant coaches Juwan Howard and Dan Craig, storming out of the paint for closeouts, and running sprints. Sweating profusely, and clearly exhausted—he held himself up by the net at several stages—he did not seem to be in any pain.

Yet none of this progress means that we’ll see Oden in a game anytime soon, let alone Saturday night when the Heat return to face the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2007, the Portland Trail Blazers. Erik Spoelstra said the Heat are still trying to increase Oden’s strength in his legs, hips and core.

Oden played briefly in the preseason, in what was likely an organizational decision to help him get over the mental hurdle of playing again, after not seeing an NBA court before that since December of 2009.

There will remain no urgency to place Oden into the Heat rotation. But it’s more than likely that if he continues to get stronger and make progress, Miami may add a key piece to its active roster in time for the stretch run of the regular season.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.