Heat preparing for Oladipo’s long-awaited return to lineup

March 6, 2022 GMT
Miami Heat's Victor Oladipo poses for a photo during the NBA basketball team's Media Day in Miami, Sept. 27, 2021. The Heat are listing Oladipo as questionable for their Monday, March 7, 2022 game against the Houston Rockets. Officially, that means there’s a 50-50 chance of the two-time All-Star playing for the first time in nearly a year, and the expectation is that — barring any last-second setback — his return is about to happen. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Miami Heat's Victor Oladipo poses for a photo during the NBA basketball team's Media Day in Miami, Sept. 27, 2021. The Heat are listing Oladipo as questionable for their Monday, March 7, 2022 game against the Houston Rockets. Officially, that means there’s a 50-50 chance of the two-time All-Star playing for the first time in nearly a year, and the expectation is that — barring any last-second setback — his return is about to happen. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Miami Heat's Victor Oladipo poses for a photo during the NBA basketball team's Media Day in Miami, Sept. 27, 2021. The Heat are listing Oladipo as questionable for their Monday, March 7, 2022 game against the Houston Rockets. Officially, that means there’s a 50-50 chance of the two-time All-Star playing for the first time in nearly a year, and the expectation is that — barring any last-second setback — his return is about to happen. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Miami Heat's Victor Oladipo poses for a photo during the NBA basketball team's Media Day in Miami, Sept. 27, 2021. The Heat are listing Oladipo as questionable for their Monday, March 7, 2022 game against the Houston Rockets. Officially, that means there’s a 50-50 chance of the two-time All-Star playing for the first time in nearly a year, and the expectation is that — barring any last-second setback — his return is about to happen. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Miami Heat's Victor Oladipo poses for a photo during the NBA basketball team's Media Day in Miami, Sept. 27, 2021. The Heat are listing Oladipo as questionable for their Monday, March 7, 2022 game against the Houston Rockets. Officially, that means there’s a 50-50 chance of the two-time All-Star playing for the first time in nearly a year, and the expectation is that — barring any last-second setback — his return is about to happen. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MIAMI (AP) — Victor Oladipo is questionable. After three years of dealing with rehab and challenges, that’s a breakthrough.

The Miami Heat are listing Oladipo as questionable for their Monday night game against the Houston Rockets. Officially, that means there’s a 50-50 chance of the two-time All-Star playing for the first time in nearly a year, and the expectation is that — barring any last-second setback — his return is about to happen.

Oladipo last appeared in an NBA game on April 8, 2021. He has been sidelined since while going through another recovery process following a second surgery on his right quadriceps tendon, which he originally injured while playing for the Indiana Pacers in January 2019.

“He has great fortitude,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the toughest thing for a professional athlete is to get injured and most of your time is away from the team. Probably, when you talk about mental health, that is the most challenging thing for an athlete.

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“You don’t necessarily always feel like you’re a part of it. You have doubts, you don’t know what it’s going to look like on the other side when you do get healthy, you’re not sure if all the work is really mattering. That’s a tough place for an athlete.”

Oladipo figures to give even more depth to a Heat team that is 43-22 and holding a three-game lead in the Eastern Conference standings with 17 contests remaining. He’s averaged 17.5 points over his career and was averaging 19.8 in stints with three teams — Miami, Houston and Indiana — last season before getting hurt.

And now his return could come against the Rockets, the team that sent him to Miami a year ago in exchange for Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and a swap of draft picks.

“He looks great,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “He’s been working for, whew, a long time, countless amounts of hours, rehab, in the gym, in the weight room. And I’m excited for him to get back.”

Oladipo has missed each of Miami’s last 89 games, including last season’s playoff appearance. He has played in just 56 games since the initial injury three years ago, missing 201 during that span. He missed a year following the first surgery, then 11 months this time after the second surgery.

The challenge for Spoelstra, which he won’t complain about, is going to be finding minutes for everyone.

Point guard Kyle Lowry will be back at some point — nobody has said when — from a team-approved absence to deal with a personal matter. Forward Markieff Morris hasn’t played since getting injured in a scuffle with Denver’s Nikola Jokic on Nov. 8 but has been working out and clarity is expected soon on when he may return. And now Oladipo is on the verge of joining the rotation as well.

“We’ve been trying to implement him in stuff. ... He’s going to add a huge boost to us,” Heat forward Caleb Martin said.

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Oladipo has been through some practices with the Heat and has done two rehab stints with Miami’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls, though did not appear in an actual game with the Skyforce. He said when the season began that he wants to “have one of the best comeback stories ever.”

His opportunity for that is about to begin.

“Through this entire process I’ve really respected and admired how Vic is able to keep his positive spirit,” Spoelstra said. “It really is a unique quality. I love that quality about him.”

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