Heat center Greg Oden played in his first basketball game since 2009 on Wednesday at New Orleans Arena.
Oden, the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft, checked into the Heat’s preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans with 5:15 left in the second quarter and immediately dunked a pass from Chris Bosh.
Oden played exactly three minutes and 59 seconds in his first action in nearly four years. The center has battled knee problems throughout his professional career and is attempting a comeback with the Heat.
The Heat defeated the newly fashioned New Orleans Pelicans 108-95 in Miami’s penultimate game of the preseason and the exhibition served as the Heat’s dress rehearsal of sorts for the season opener on Tuesday. The team’s entrenched starters played together for the first time since Oct. 10, and LeBron James led the Heat with 27 points, but the big news was Oden’s debut.
Oddly enough, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t allow reporters to interview Oden during the morning’s shootaround session and also dodged questions about whether Oden had been scrimmaging with the Heat in the last week. The reason for Spoelstra’s coyness became obvious after a timeout in the second quarter when Oden replaced Shane Battier in the lineup.
Oden’s first appearance with the Heat came alongside Bosh in the frontcourt. Also in the lineup with Oden were Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and LeBron James.
“Welcome back G.O.,” Heat owner Micky Arison tweeted after Oden’s stint in the second quarter.
Pat Riley, who spoke in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Tuesday evening, attended the Heat’s shootaround on Wednesday morning in New Orleans.
“It was really great to see, his first game since 2009,” Riley said of Oden’s debut. “It was just a really great confidence builder for him. He’s not in shape yet but he’s getting there. We just have to keep him healthy.”
Oden’s best defensive sequence came with 2:53 left in the second quarter when he altered the shots of Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday one moment and then immediately forced New Orleans forward Anthony Davis into a difficult shot attempt after a rebound and put-back attempt. Oden then forced a jump ball on the play.
During a timeout, Oden jogged off the court with a huge smile on his face and was greeted by congratulatory slaps and punches from Battier and Michael Beasley.
“In December it will be four years, so four minutes is enough for me,” Oden said. “As long as I got out there and I walked off and I’m healthy that’s all that matters. Next step for me is coming in tomorrow and making sure everything is taken care of with my legs and making sure it gets back to where it feels good. And then I’ll be out there another game.”
LeBron led a short but poignant post-game celebration for Oden in the Heat’s locker room.
“I might have to toast this for him. I ain’t no drinker but I might have to take a shot for him,” James said.
Wade finished his eight-week offseason workout program with trainer Tim Grover on Monday. The Heat’s starting shooting guard said the program was geared towards strengthening his legs to take pressure off of his knees. Wade had trouble with his knees in each of the last two postseasons and he’s hoping a different approach to offseason training can better prepare him for long grind of an 82-game season.
“I’m just reading my body,” Wade said. “I read my body and make sure I’m doing the right things. I’ve been in this league going on now my 11th season, so I’m trying to be smart.”
Wade said the eight-week training schedule with Grover was broken down into stages “to focus on different areas of the body,” building strength and taking pressure of his knees.
Wade said there is no plan in place heading into the regular season for scheduled rest days “no matter what stories out there say.”
“I want to play every game,” Wade said.
Wade’s on-again-off-again approach to the preseason has helped him remain healthy for the beginning of the regular season. The Heat’s first home-and-away back-to-back is on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wade didn’t give any indication that he will be sitting out against the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Ideally I would like to play every game that we can play, so that’s my goal,” Wade said.
On Sunday during his Twitter Q&A, Wade appeared to question the premise of an article in ESPN The Magazine that seemed to suggest two superstars couldn’t coexist. Wade said on Wednesday that his relationship with James has strengthened since the summer of 2010.
“You just get closer,” Wade said. “You spend a lot of time together and now we depend on each other on the basketball court for our success. We’ve always had a friendship, but now we’re like brothers. You just get close, you spend more time together and learn a little bit more about each other.
“We were friends before 2010 and now we’re like brothers.”
James said he doesn’t expect to play on Friday in the Heat’s final preseason game. Wade was non-committal when asked about playing against the Nets at AmericanAirlines Arena. Both players are expected to rest on Friday in preparation for opening night on Tuesday against the Bulls.