- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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Oden is doubtful to play in the Heat's preseason finale Friday against the Brooklyn Nets, but the 7-foot center participated in Miami's Friday morning shootaround and also went through a workout during the team's off day Thursday.
The sessions came after Oden's emotional return to the court during a four-minute stint in the first half of the Heat's exhibition win in New Orleans. Oden dunked on his first play in the game and finished with two points, two rebounds and a block during his brief stint alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"I'm still standing and I'm happy, so let's just keep building from that," Oden told ESPN.com Friday. "The first step was the other night (in New Orleans), the second step was Thursday and the next step was today. So let's just keep getting better and moving on from there."
Although Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden continues to progress ahead of schedule with the Heat in his comeback from multiple knee surgeries, the team vows to work from a specific schedule that diligently monitors his condition. When told of Oden's desire to get back on the court again Tuesday, Spoelstra smiled and said, "Yeah, we'll see."
Oden said he was still hearing from friends and former teammates from around the league who saw highlights from Wednesday's game, which was his first on an NBA court since Dec. 5, 2009, when he was with Portland and suffered his second season-ending knee injury. Chronic knee problems have limited Oden to 82 career games since he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft.
Despite Oden's ambition to get back on the court as soon as possible, Spoelstra revealed Friday that the Heat's trainers and doctors are working from an established schedule that balances days Oden works with needed recovery time. For example, because Oden played Wednesday and then completed consecutive days of practice or conditioning work, the schedule calls for a break in action to see how his knees respond. Oden said there were no complications or unexpected discomfort after three extensive days of work.
"It was just back to the process," Spoelstra said Friday. "It wasn't anything unexpected. It wasn't anything that we have to do differently. We're going to be very disciplined to the big-picture thinking, very patient with it. I think he's appreciated that, based on all of the research and everything you feel. This is the right path."
Spoelstra said there is very little consultation with Oden when it comes to adhering to the rehab program.
"We have a specific amount of days he goes in a row," Spoelstra said. "But it's not based on how he feels. If I just go off how he feels, he probably would have played in five games already. And he would have probably participated in 70 percent of the practices."
Oden said he has no problem with the patient approach and trusts that the team has his long-term interests in mind. But his teammates also realize how tough it is for Oden to persevere through some of his more anxious moments.
"I was away from the game for eight months with an injury, and it was the worst eight months of my life, so I can imagine what he had to go through," said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who missed most of the 2010-11 season to recover from foot surgery. "You always want to root for a guy like that who has put in the work and could have given up over and over again, but he hasn't."
Haslem said Oden has responded well to workouts the past two days and doesn't seem overwhelmed by the process. Oden said not even a slight setback last week, when he sat out a few days because of swelling, affected his confidence.
"You stand right here in this hallway, and you see that the main goal is winning and that it's a long season," Oden said as he stood outside the Heat's locker room and nodded toward photos from Miami's last two championship runs. "This is preseason. I don't want to do anything -- I want to play in the real games. I just don't want to have any setbacks, so we'll take our time. But just to get my first dunk, my first taste the other night, it felt good. Shoot, hopefully another one comes Tuesday."
4dEthan Sherwood Strauss
5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com