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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Heat’s Victor Oladipo nails the landing, creating optimism amid playoff race – The Denver Post

The roar came with Victor Oladipo still in midair, having corralled the perfectly thrown alley-oop pass from Duncan Robinson and jammed with a fury that rekindled memories of what previously had been so typical.

“He jumped right out of the building!” Miami Heat play-by-play man Eric Reid exhorted of the 6-foot-4 veteran guard.

But what might have mattered just as much in that moment is that Oladipo also nailed the landing, was able to walk back to the huddle amid congratulations from teammates, as the Atlanta Hawks called timeout in the wake of the moment seemingly out of a time machine.

Two years earlier, during a national telecast also on the Heat’s home court, Oladipo had a similar moment off a feed from center Bam Adebayo, with a soul-crushing dunk against the Los Angeles Lakers, also in a key fourth-quarter moment.

That time, though, the landing came with a thud, Oladipo tugging at his right leg. Something was wrong, very wrong. He had torn his right quadricep again, leading to yet another surgery.

For years, the goal for Oladipo has been to get up again.

And in that single moment in time, with 9:22 left in Monday night’s victory, Oladipo got up, came down . . . and kept on going, all the way to what would close as a 22-point night, his highest-scoring game in two months.

“It worked out great,” he said. “I got on the break. Big shoutout to Duncan, that was a great pass from him. Yeah, went up and finished it. Felt good.”

Two points.

And statement made.

About resolve and resilience, after years of treatment, surgeries, therapies trying to make that right leg right again, at 30 able to recapture what had been so typical earlier in his 20s.

“Honestly,” he said with a smile, “I’ve been trying to catch a lob all year, to be honest with you.”

With Tyler Herro’s shift into the starting lineup after his Sixth Man Award season, the hope was that Oladipo could pick up where Herro left off. Instead, the play largely has been uneven, cratering to 4 of 16 shooting in the two games prior to Monday.

But this time there was 6 of 12 from the field, 4 of 7 on 3-pointers, a crossover dribble that left Hawks guard Dejounte Murray reeling, and a wraparound assist to Adebayo that led to arguably the most artistic sequence in the victory that completed the two-game sweep of the Hawks, as the Heat now turn their attention to Wednesday and Friday night games against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Obviously my road has been different,” the two-time former All-Star said. “Things have been different. The situation is different. But I’m just going to continue to keep making the most of it, just being aggressive.

“I’m trying to get it going, do whatever I can to help the team win. Just got to keep building.”

That, coach Erik Spoelstra said, is the part that often gets lost in the analysis of Oladipo’s play, the building that comes behind the scenes, Oladipo often drenched after pregame sessions and workouts that have others barely breaking a sweat.

“I’ve probably seen it as much as anybody, behind the scenes, just all the sweat, the grind, when nobody’s watching,” Spoelstra said. “And so often, that’s what this league is about, when you do all your preparation, the countless hours, and nobody has any idea. But Vic, you’re happy for a guy when he’s able to produce like that for his team and impact winning, particularly everything that he’s gone through.”

All, Spoelstra said, while appreciating that expectations need to be kept in line with what remains an ongoing process.

“And I remind him all the time,” Spoelstra said, “that he has to have a little bit of grace with himself. And I think everybody probably has to have a little bit of grace with everything he’s gone through. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, you can be right back to who you used to be.’ He’s been out for more percentage of games in the last four years than he’s actually played. And that is something. And we wanted to commit to him on this journey knowing that it wouldn’t just be a linear improvement. that there would be some ups and down and everything in between.

“But he stayed the course, and he showed that persistence and that fortitude and he’s had an impact. Physically, he’s getting better and stronger. And he was just really good [Monday] night.”

Because he got up, nailed his landing and kept on going.

“Everybody goes through stuff,” Oladipo said. “Everybody goes through things. It’s just about how you have resolve and how resilient you are, it really defines who you are as a person, it defines who you are as a man. So I’m just going to continue to keep getting better, and staying aggressive.”


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