- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHILADELPHIA -- Miami Heat center Greg Oden emerged from his first NBA regular-season game in more than four years with no significant pain or swelling in his troublesome knees, and will be re-evaluated before his status is determined for Friday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Oden, the No. 1 draft pick in 2007, was back on the court Thursday, a day after his productive and encouraging seven-minute stint during the Heat's blowout loss to the Wizards in Washington. The Heat had a lengthy film session before players took the court for individual workouts at Temple University on Wednesday. Oden wasn't involved in any scrimmage work, but did participate in some light conditioning and shooting drills.
After the workout, Oden said his knees responded "fine [with] no swelling" from his first meaningful game action since Dec. 5, 2009, when he suffered his second season-ending knee injury as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Oden finished with six points and two rebounds in eight minutes in the 114-97 loss to Washington. He started the second half after initially entering late in the second quarter.
"It's nothing I can't manage," Oden said Thursday of the minor soreness he attributed to general wear and tear from playing in a game. "I'm just looking forward to playing in the next game. I got to play in a game. That's what it really is, when you're able to battle and be out there. I would have loved for us to win and say I was able to give us a spark. But you just move on to the next game, and hope I can play."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden would go through another round of conditioning work and tests to gauge swelling in his knees before a decision would be made about his availability for upcoming games. Miami is midway through a six-game trip that also carries the team to Charlotte on Saturday and ends Monday in Atlanta.
Oden had been progressing gradually since he played a four-minute stint during an Oct. 23 preseason game in New Orleans. But he also hinted Thursday that he was stalled a bit by swelling and other conditioning issues in the weeks after playing in that game.
The decision to activate Oden in Washington on Wednesday came as a bit of a surprise even to many of his teammates. But Oden's recent progress and the Heat's shortage of available centers -- Joel Anthony was traded Wednesday to Boston and Chris Andersen is sidelined by a knee injury -- opened an opportunity for the Heat's biggest offseason acquisition to suit up and begin to work off the rust.
Oden's performance Wednesday provided a bit of a spark for the Heat, who trailed Washington by as much as 34 points in the first half before they cut the deficit to nine. However, they couldn't get any closer on the way to their third straight loss. With the Heat trying to search for answers to their recent poor play, Spoelstra said Oden was a bright spot.
"We were all very happy that he was able to get out there and compete, even for a short period of minutes," Spoelstra said Thursday. "We know the struggle that he's been in, and just to see the smile ... we allowed one guy to have a smile on his face after [Wednesday's game], and that was Greg."
But Spoelstra also said it's too soon to know what, if any, role Oden will have in the rotation at this point. Oden remains on a specific training regimen designed to improve his conditioning as well as to strengthen his hips and the leg muscles around his knees. Oden has had three major knee surgeries and has admitted to battling alcohol abuse and depression as he struggled with the injuries.
He paused for a few seconds when asked Thursday if he's reached the point where he can trust his knees to hold up in his latest and most extensive comeback.
"Honestly, when I was out there [Wednesday], I didn't even think about my knees," Oden said. "So it's just a matter of if they feel good. I'm not worried about what's going to happen. I'm worried about just getting out there and playing."
Oden said he hopes he doesn't have to wait several more weeks or months to play again. But he also said his conditioning must improve in order for him to be effective in more than just spot-duty minutes. It's been a bumpy ride along the way with the Heat, but Oden said he's only focused on the next step.
"Well, it was in the past," Oden said of some of the struggles and setbacks he's dealt with working to get his body back into NBA shape. "So I'm not going to speak about that. But there's no soreness now."
3dEthan Sherwood Strauss
4dMatt Walks, ESPN.com