Heat prepare for the long-awaited return of Oladipo

Miami Heat's Victor Oladipo poses for a photo during NBA basketball team media day in Miami, Sept. 27, 2021. The Heat are classifying Oladipo as questionable for their Monday, March 7, 2022 game against the Houston Rockets.  Officially, that means there's a 50-50 chance the two-time All-Star will play for the first time in nearly a year, and it's expected that - barring a last-second setback - his comeback is on. about to happen.  (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Miami Heat’s Victor Oladipo poses for a photo during NBA basketball team media day in Miami, Sept. 27, 2021. The Heat are classifying Oladipo as questionable for their Monday, March 7, 2022 game against the Houston Rockets. Officially, that means there’s a 50-50 chance the two-time All-Star will play for the first time in nearly a year, and it’s expected that – barring a last-second setback – his comeback is on. about to happen. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

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Victor Oladipo is questionable. After three years of rehab and challenges, this is a breakthrough.

The Miami Heat are classifying Oladipo as questionable for their Monday night game against the Houston Rockets. Officially, that means there’s a 50-50 chance the two-time All-Star will play for the first time in nearly a year, and it’s expected that – barring a last-second setback – his comeback is on. about to happen.

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

“He’s got a lot of guts,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s the hardest thing for a professional athlete is to get injured and most of his time is away from the team. When you talk about mental health, that’s probably the hardest thing for an athlete.

“You don’t necessarily always feel like you’re part of it. You have doubts, you don’t know what it will look like on the other side when you’re healthy, you’re not sure that all the hard work really matters, it’s a tough place for an athlete.

Oladipo believes he can give even more depth to a Heat team that is 43-22 and holds a three-game lead in the Eastern Conference standings with 17 games remaining. He averaged 17.5 points in his career and averaged 19.8 in relays with three teams – Miami, Houston and Indiana – last season before being injured.

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 draft pick trade.

“He looks great,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “He’s been working for, phew, a long time, countless hours, in rehab, in the gym, in the weight room. And I can’t wait for him to come back.”

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

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

Point guard Kyle Lowry will be back at some point — no one has said when — after a team-approved absence to settle a personal matter. Forward Markieff Morris hasn’t played since injuring himself in a fight with Denver’s Nikola Jokic on Nov. 8, but has been training and is expected to return soon . And now Oladipo is also set to join the rotation.

“We tried to implement it into stuff. … He’s going to give us a huge boost,” Heat forward Caleb Martin said.

Oladipo underwent a few practices with the Heat and completed two rehab stints with Miami’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls, but did not appear in an actual game with Skyforce. He said at the start of the season that he wanted “to have one of the best comeback stories ever.”

His opportunity for this is about to begin.

“Throughout this process, I’ve really respected and admired how Vic is able to keep his spirit positive,” Spoelstra said. “It’s really a unique quality. I like that quality in him.

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