Greg Oden makes debut for Heat

Greg Oden made a surprising debut for the Miami Heat on Wednesday night and showed how far he has come in his long-term recovery from chronic knee issues.

Oden checked into the second quarter of the Heat's preseason game in New Orleans, the first time he had played in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009, a span of more than 1,400 days.

On his first possession, the Heat ran a post-up play for Oden, who turned and dunked the ball. He played an eventful 80 seconds of game time in the first half, picking up the basket, two rebounds, a turnover and a foul.

He ended up playing four minutes total in the Heat's 108-95 win against the Pelicans.

"It's been a long time," Oden said. "It's been a long road for me, just to get that off my back, my first step tonight. I'm happy I'm able to walk off this court and I'm able to play another day."

Teammate LeBron James was happy to see him back on the court.

"It was a very special moment," he said. "I have no idea what my feeling would be like, being away from the game for three years. It was like a proud moment, man. I was so excited for him when he got on the court and he checked in -- and his first basket he gets a dunk. Can you write it any better? Obviously he's not where he wants to be, but the process is going great.

"I can just imagine how excited he was to get back out there. I'm going to have to take a toast for him, man. I ain't no drinker, but I might have to take a shot for him. It was an absolutely great moment."

Miami is a team used to celebrating NBA championships after winning the past two. Oden was gratified to see how much it also meant to the Heat to see him show the first small sign of a successful return to the game he loves, and missed.

"In December it would be four years, so four minutes, that's enough for me," Oden said. "As long as I got out there and I walked off and I'm healthy, that's all that matters.

"I know the guys were happy for me. I definitely felt love. And I'm excited that they were there for me."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden's face "lit up" when he told him he was going to put him in the game.

"We are just so pleased for him," Spoelstra said. "It was just great to see him do something he loves to do. It was taken away from him for four years. We just continue to make patient, steady progress forward from here."

The Heat gave no indication Oden would play before the game and prevented him from doing media interviews earlier Wednesday. Oden has been doing drills with the team since training camp and had his first five-on-five contact workout with the team last week.

Following that practice, Oden experienced swelling in his left knee and took off some time. Trainers have been closely monitoring swelling in his knees, measuring them before and after workouts.

Spoelstra told the Heat's television broadcast crew that Oden would get some floor time in part as a reward for his diligent rehab work since signing with the team over the summer. His latest knee surgery came in 2012, the same year he was released by the Portland Trail Blazers.

Before Wednesday's game, Spoelstra told reporters the Heat still planned to go slowly with Oden.

"He's way ahead of schedule right now. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves. This is big picture," Spoelstra said.

"But he's much further along right now than we anticipated when we first talked to him in July. But that does not mean, for one second, we're going to think about fast-tracking the process. We have a very specific plan that we're going to stay disciplined to."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.