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Heat continues to have a hole in the middle

The SportsXchange

The constant amid the Heat's tumultuous ride, one that will continue after Thursday's 98-79 Game 6 victory over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden, is the lack of clarity at center.

Even now, with Game 7 of these Eastern Conference final looming Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the issues in the middle remain magnified.

With Udonis Haslem again opening at center Thursday, the Heat have used three different starting centers in the last four games.

Ronny Turiaf opened in the middle in Game 3, Joel Anthony in Game 4, Haslem in Games 5 and 6.

In fact, counting Dexter Pittman's ill-fated and short-lived start in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers, as well as Chris Bosh opening the playoffs as the starting center before his lower abdominal strain, it leaves the Heat with five starting centers this postseason.

And that doesn't even count LeBron James jumping center at the opening tip of Games 5 and 6 in place of Haslem, or the time James has spent defending Kevin Garnett in this series and New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler in the opening round.

For the Heat, center was a near complete makeover from last season, when Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier got the majority of the starts.

But following the 2010-11 season, Heat president Pat Riley vowed improvement in the middle.

"We would like to get size," he said in his closing remarks after last season's Finals. "We would like to get length. Joel Anthony has done an incredible job and he will get better. But we'd like to get size that we can put in there, in the middle, that I don't know if you're going to get a back-to-the-basket player, but we'd like to get size and things of that nature inside that might be a little bit more athletic with great length."

Instead, there was Anthony, Pittman, the failed experiment with Eddy Curry and eventually Turiaf.

As with the previous season, there merely was roulette in the middle, never producing a winning number.

"It's been a challenge for all of us," James said. "At times, it's hard to get a rhythm for what's going on, starting the game, starting the third quarter.

"So that's been a rotating door for us the last two years, not just in this series, you know, our five position, Joel or U.D. or C.B. at times, and Ronny and Damp and Z. I mean, the list goes on in just two years."
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