MIAMI — Here’s no surprise: The Miami Heat are expecting to see Indiana’s Paul George play on Saturday night.
Here’s a surprise: Greg Oden might be out there as well.
Whether George gets cleared to return from his concussion is no longer the only lineup question that awaits the Pacers and Heat when the knotted-up Eastern Conference finals resume in Miami. Oden is under consideration for some minutes after showing Heat coaches this week that weeks of problematic back issues may finally be over.
“It’s been a rough two days,” said George, who was concussed in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
For Oden, it’s been a rough five years. His last playoff appearance was on April 30, 2009, but his work in recent days has apparently gotten Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wondering if the time is right to work Oden — whose career was derailed by knee injuries — into the rotation of defenders charged with making life miserable for Indiana center Roy Hibbert.
“If coach needs me, I’m ready to play,” Oden said. “I’m definitely ready whenever he needs me.”
The series is tied at a game apiece, with Miami grabbing the home-court edge away by rallying for a 87-83 win at Indianapolis in Game 2. The teams have been off since, which figures to be a blessing of sorts for the Pacers — who had several players limping and ailing late in that game, with George’s concussion the most notable malady.
The back of George’s head was struck by Dwyane Wade’s knee as both were trying to get control of a loose ball during the fourth quarter of that game. George remained in the game but was basically a non-factor the rest of the way, and Miami owned the final minutes. The concussion came to light only after George revealed postgame that he briefly “blacked out.”
“I probably should have kept that to myself,” George said. “It just made a mess. That’s something that, going forward, just keep that between myself and the training staff.”
Miami hasn’t even considered the possibility that George won’t play in Game 3.
“Why wouldn’t he?” Heat star LeBron James asked.
Still, it’s fair to wonder how the George situation will affect Indiana as it heads into Miami, plus if it will change the rather odd ongoing phenomenon — that being how the Pacers, the NBA’s best home team during the regular season, have been best during these playoffs when on the road.
The Pacers still haven’t won even two consecutive home games in this postseason. But away from home, Indiana has won five straight — its longest such streak, even including regular-season play, in more than two years.
Atlanta and Washington combined to shoot only 38 percent at home against Indiana in the opening two rounds, averaging just 84.8 points per game. The Pacers haven’t exactly been offensive juggernauts in those games, averaging 90.7 points themselves, but the airtight defense was enough for Indiana to save its season by winning elimination games in both matchups.
“We played at a high level in the Washington series, and those last two against Atlanta when we were down in the series, we played with great desperation,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys take pride in their defense. That’s probably why you see those numbers.”
Then again, the Heat presents a bit more of a challenge than the Hawks and Wizards.
Miami is 5-0 at home in the postseason, winning by an average of 10 points per game and shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. Going back to last season, the Heat have won eight straight playoff games in their own building and since James joined the club they’re 35-7 at home during the postseason.
Among those seven losses? The Pacers won at Miami in both 2012 and 2013.
And that’s why Miami knows having the home-court edge now hardly assures a series win.
“Both teams can win on each other’s floor. We’ve proven that the last couple years,” James said. “We have to protect our home, but we can’t go out there saying that just because we’re back home we get automatic wins. We’ve got to play.”