HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Greg Oden is not ready to step into the Miami Heat’s rotation. But he was ready to step on the floor for his first NBA action in 1,418 days. And there he was in New Orleans on Wednesday night, checking in with 5:15 to go in the second quarter.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra ran a play for Oden right away. The big man set a screen for Chris Bosh and dragged Bosh’s man Al-Farouq Aminu into the paint with him. Bosh hit Oden with an entry pass and the big man pivoted and threw down a strong, two-handed dunk, eliciting an emotional reaction from the Miami bench.
A few possessions later, Oden made an impact defensively, stopping consecutive shots by Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis at the rim (though he didn’t get credit for either block). He played 3:59 and, most importantly, walked off the floor feeling fine.
“A mark of success for me,” Oden said back on media day, “is walking on to a court and walking off healthy. Being able to play in a game and just walk off the court healthy, no matter if it was one minute or two minutes. My dream is being able to play basketball, and if I can go out there and do it, run up and down and come off the court again healthy, that’s goal one. Goal two is going to my second game, going on the court and walking off.”
Just a week ago, Oden experienced swelling in his knee after a five-on-five scrimmage, so to see him playing Wednesday — even if it was preseason — was somewhat of a surprise. To see him dunk the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009 was rather remarkable.
As a team, the Heat are healthy, with Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen up front. Dwyane Wade looks to be in great shape, Bosh has played well all preseason, and LeBron James is LeBron James. So, while it’s tempting to think about what he could add to a team that’s won two straight championships, there’s absolutely no need for Oden to be ready to start the season on Tuesday.
“We’re thinking big picture with this,” Spoelstra said about Oden’s progress last week. “We’re going to move very patiently.”
If we see Oden play meaningful minutes for the Heat, it probably won’t happen for a while. But this was a big step in his journey back to the NBA.
“I got a long ways to go,” Oden told FOX Sports’ Jason Jackson after the game, “but I’m just happy to be out there.”