- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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LeBron James quickly found out just how valuable of a defensive presence Greg Oden can be for the Miami Heat, if Oden continues to make progress in his comeback after nearly four years out of the game.
Cleared on Monday for his first 5-on-5 scrimmage work since he signed with the Heat in July, Oden rejected James' shot at the rim and made a handful of other impressive plays as Miami prepared for Tuesday's preseason game in Washington against the Wizards.
James insisted he didn't take it easy on Oden, who has not played in an NBA game since December 2009, when he suffered his second season-ending knee injury while with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“He fouled me twice today, and I scored on him, too,” James said.
The competitor in James wasn't too pleased with Oden rejecting him at the rim. But the teammate and NBA fan in James, who has seen the tribulations Oden has endured during an injury-riddled career since being picked No. 1 overall in 2007, embraced Monday's moment with appreciation and pride.
Although the team still plans to take matters slowly with Oden, coach Erik Spoelstra won't rule out the possibility that the 7-foot center could play in one of the Heat's remaining preseason games as a reward for his hard work and progress since he was signed to a one-year contract in July. Heat teammates also have been trying to temper their excitement despite seeing Oden make gradual strides in workouts.
“We all love the game so much, and we worked our whole life to live out a dream,” James said. “And when that dream is taken from you because of an injury, it sucks. For him to be able to stick with it and be here ... it's a testament to him keeping his composure, him believing in himself, his family believing in him. He's back where he belongs and that's in the NBA.”
While Oden's progress and Michael Beasley's potential have overshadowed many of the Heat's preseason developments, third-year point guard Norris Cole has quietly gone about the job of solidifying his role in Miami's far-from-settled rotation.
Cole looks to build on his 15-point performance from his previous preseason outing when the Heat face the Wizards. James took a moment during his session with reporters Monday to congratulate Cole on having the Heat pick up his contract option for next season.
Among the biggest improvements Cole has made in camp has been his ability to know when to change pace and identify openings in an opposing defense. Stiffer competition for minutes -- he's behind starter Mario Chalmers and trying to hold off veteran Roger Mason Jr. -- has sparked some impressive play.
“I think my growth has helped increase my confidence,” Cole said Monday. “I can identify situations quicker. The faster you can decipher information as a point guard, the better plays you can make. We're still not quite there yet, but we're definitely going to be ready for the first game.”
Spoelstra said everyone on the roster was able to participate on some level in Monday's scrimmage work, although he has yet to solidify his plan as to who will be available for Tuesday's game in Washington. After sitting out Friday's preseason win in Kansas City to rest his knees, guard Dwyane Wade said he expects to be available to face the Wizards.
Did you know?
A new billboard across the street from AmericanAirlines Arena that features James promoting the NBA 2K14 video game has replaced one that was defaced by a graffiti artist. The previous billboard was spray-painted white, with the words "Nobody can stop me" outlining James' image.
Quote of the day
“It felt good to get out there and get some up and down. You can see I'm frustrated because I'm not as back as I want to be.” -- Heat center Greg Oden on getting through his first 5-on-5 practice with an NBA team since December 2009.