Oden returns to Blazers lineup after sitting with injury
MIAMI -- Greg Oden was a happy man, with good reason. Nearly a year and a half after being drafted, he suited up for an NBA game and didn't get hurt.
The hard-luck center was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft, then missed all of last season following knee surgery and only managed to play 13 minutes after spraining his right foot against the Los Angeles Lakers in his long-awaited debut last month. He sat out six games with the injury, and acknowledged Wednesday night that he's got plenty of work to do.
"It will come," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "He was aggressive. He made some plays."
At times, Oden appeared winded and seemed to lag off the pace when teams were in transition.
"I have to get back on defense, get back in shape," Oden said. "That's my big thing right now."
The Blazers will give him some time for that. McMillan said he'll act cautiously when it comes to how Oden will be worked back into the rotation.
"We are adding him to what we're already doing and have to fit him into the things we're doing, make those adjustments again," McMillan said. "He's a part of what we want to take advantage of on both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively, and having him back in the lineup will be somewhat of an adjustment. So we'll try to work him in slowly."
Oden's first NBA points came with 49.4 seconds left in the opening quarter, when he leaped over Miami's Joel Anthony for an offensive rebound, spun and threw down a fierce right-handed dunk as several Portland reserves bounded off their bench.
His first basket came 504 days after getting drafted and after collecting a bit over $5 million in salary.
Oden went through a full practice Tuesday, and after a pain-free shootaround practice Wednesday pronounced himself fit to play. McMillan said, for now, he intends to use Oden somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 minutes per night, and it's likely that Joel Przybilla will remain the starting center for the foreseeable future.
"We're different with him because we have a low-post presence," said Blazers guard Brandon Roy, the 2007 rookie of the year, who also was in Wednesday's lineup despite a bout of back spasms earlier this week. "Without Greg, we're a perimeter-oriented team. We take a lot of jump shots. With Greg, we've kind of got that low-post presence. He's so strong."
For whatever reason, Oden seems to have unfortunate luck on the injury front.
He missed the start of his lone season at Ohio State after needing surgery on his right wrist, missed the bulk of the 2007 NBA summer league season with tonsillitis, and even a slightly sprained ankle this year in training camp was a cause for concern.
"It's kind of tough for a player who's been sitting out a whole year. It's tough," said Heat guard Daequan Cook, who was Oden's teammate at Ohio State. "We've been talking. We hung out these last few days and he looked a lot better, a lot healthier, a lot stronger. I'm looking forward to finally seeing him get a chance to play face-to-face."
Cook said he doesn't think it will take Oden long to regain the form that made him one of the most dominant college players two years ago.
"It's nothing but getting back to the flow and getting back to the groove of the game you're used to playing," Cook said. "It's going to take some time. You can't just come straight out scoring 30 and 10. It's a long season. You're going to get your opportunities and he's the type of player who's going to take advantage of the opportunities."
After a year-plus of injury issues, Oden is clearly hoping the worst is over.
"I'm anxious to be back out there," Oden said. "There's really no other words for it."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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