Finally, Greg Oden returns to the NBA

Finally, Greg Oden returns to the NBA
January 16, 2014, 1:00 am
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Greg Oden scores his first NBA points since 2009

Miami Heat center Greg Oden (20) defends a pass by Washington Wizards power forward Nene (42) in the third quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 114-97.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The Wizards held a 34-point lead on the two-time defending champion Miami Heat en route to a 114-97 win. On most nights, nothing could stun onlookers or those involved more.

Greg Oden entering an NBA game counts as stunning.

The 7-footer, drafted No. 1 overall by the Portland Trail blazers in 2007, not only suited up for the first time this season with the Heat, he played nine minutes.

His previous game? December 5, 2009 with the Blazers against the Rockets, including Trevor Ariza. That outing ended early with one of several major knee injuries that have sabotaged his promising career.

"That kid's like a little brother to me man," said Martell Webster, who played with Oden in Portland. "I'm very happy and proud of that kid for making his entry back into the NBA."

Oden's entry back into the NBA on this particular came about in part because the Heat traded away veteran center Joel Anthony earlier on Wednesday. That left a roster spot open.

"I had no idea he was playing actually until he was getting dressed and I saw that he had his knee brace on," Miami star LeBron James said. "I was like, 'oh, you're active?' and he was like 'yeah'." That was very exciting. I didn't know he was going to get the opportunity either. ...I'm happy for him."

Before this game, Oden's playing career consistent of 82 games with Portland from 2008-2010. He averaged 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

Though Oden signed with the Heat this offseason, in many ways he was not part of the team as his practice work largely came on the side and away from teammates. Before the game, James said he couldn't say how much Oden had progressed because he simply had not seen him practice.

[RELATED: Instant analysis: Wizards 114, Heat 97]

"It felt good, just being able to be back on the court," Oden said. "Honestly, the big thing is to be able to have now that connection with my teammates. I've been here, I've been around, but when you're not playing sometimes deep down you don't always feel part of the team as much." 

Turns out the trade involving another big man helped Oden get the connection he desired. 

"Today we had an open spot so I was really just going to suit him up and if I had a moment to put him in for a couple of minutes, I would, otherwise he was just going to be there," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "But as soon as we went down 30, might as well just try to reward him for the work he's put in."

Oden with 6:03 left in the second quarter. Within 17 seconds, the former Ohio State grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a dunk. With his presence on the court, the Heat began mounting a comeback and closed the second quarter on an 18-5 run.

"You see the signs and the activity," Spoelstra said. "He’s a skill player for somebody that big.”

The current three-game losing streak aside, Miami remains the favorite for the 2014 NBA championship thanks to the heralded trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. What the Heat lack is a powerful big man who can take on the likes of Indiana's Roy Hibbert or in this game, Nene. There is a long way to go before the NBA playoffs, but the hope is that Oden can become that player.

"He has no pressure," James said. "Whatever he can give us. His time out on the floor is going to be a plus. He's a big body, he's going to rebound, he's going to help block shots, he's going to help clog the paint and he can catch and finish. That's something that we can definitely use."

Greg Oden back in the NBA is a feel good story all fans of the game can use.

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