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MIAMI -- Greg Oden is likely to be cleared for full practice work with the Miami Heat next week and could see his first NBA action in four years during one of their final preseason games, sources told ESPN.com on Saturday.
Oden last played in a game with the Trail Blazers in 2009, when he sustained his second season-ending knee injury since Portland selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft.
|Greg Oden has not played in an NBA regular-season game since December 2009.|
The Heat, who signed Oden to a one-year contract this past summer hoping to salvage his career, have been encouraged by his development in recent days.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra won't rule out playing Oden in at least one of the team's five remaining preseason games if the 7-foot center avoids any setbacks or recurring swelling in his knees, which have endured multiple surgeries the past five years.
Oden was quietly cleared for more physically demanding contact work in Miami's practices earlier this week. He completed another extensive workout on the court Friday before the Heat's preseason win over Charlotte in a neutral-site game played in Kansas City.
"The next step for me now is just doing some five-on-five work and just getting out there," Oden told ESPN.com. "Every little step for me, I just get excited. I just want to get out there and do more and more, get my wind back, get my legs back under me. I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks I'll be able to get a couple of minutes out there."
The Heat publicly remain cautious and continue to take the long view in their approach to Oden's comeback. But there were promising signs last week when Oden went through a pair of four-on-four scrimmage sessions and responded without any unexpected concerns with his knees.
The Heat did not practice Saturday, but are scheduled for workouts Sunday and Monday before playing preseason road games next week against Washington and Brooklyn.
"The fact that he's been out there [in workouts], the fact that he's practiced with us twice this week ... that's what we're concerned about right now," Spoelstra said of Oden in light of Friday's session in Kansas City. "You can see it in his spirit. Just being around a locker room again, being around a group of guys like this, being able to drill with coaches ... I'm very encouraged."
It's been a tedious process with Oden, whose workload has incrementally increased since the Heat opened training camp two weeks ago in the Bahamas. He initially was limited to light conditioning work and non-contact defensive drills in practice. The level of involvement increased last week during the live scrimmage sessions in practice.
Teammates joked that Oden didn't have to wear a yellow jersey to signify he was off limits for physical and aggressive play.
"When he's out there, he's out there," Dwyane Wade said. "You get excited when you see him do certain things. He's an animal when he gets the ball down low -- even in the short minutes he's had. But we don't want to put any high expectations or pressure on him right now."
The recovery during off days and between workouts for Oden have been just as vital as any of the strides he's made on the court. Oden said trainers measure the size of his knees before and after each workout to gauge for any swelling. If the results are acceptable, the training staff clears Oden for the next day -- and next phase -- of work.
Otherwise, his workload is lightened.
"It's great to see him running up and down, obviously for us, but it's a great feeling knowing he can do it," LeBron James said. "He's been going through a lot. They're not long [workouts]. They're not keeping him on his feet long, but it's great to see him."
The rehab has a two-pronged process for Oden. Team members say his psychological recovery is as much of a priority as getting his body back to NBA standards. If he sees spot minutes in the preseason, the move would be a reward for his progress.
"I've got to err on the side of caution," Oden said. "For me, if it doesn't go right, [then] where am I going to be at? So caution, making sure I'm able to play and actually prolong my legs, is my main goal."