Oden dreams of rejoining Trail Blazers for playoffs

Injured center has begun light practice and conditioning

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — The combination of common sense, caution and a desire to protect highly valued assets for future use would suggest that Trail Blazers center Greg Oden is done for the season.

The big man feels otherwise.

For months, Oden would tell anyone who asked that he hoped to play again before the 2009-10 season drew to a close. Friday, Oden revised his statement: He will attempt to rejoin the Blazers if the team makes the NBA Playoffs.

Check the Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter for a transcript of an interview with Greg Oden. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter

Portland was tied with San Antonio for seventh place in the Western Conference heading into Friday, and the Blazers held a four-game lead over ninth-place Memphis. Portland (37-27) has 18 games regular-season games remaining, including an April 14 finale against Golden State at the Rose Garden.

“I would just love to come back and be a part of just being able to be around the guys and be on the court and bond with them. ... That would mean a lot to me,” Oden said.

Portland’s center fractured his left patella Dec. 5 against Houston. He underwent what was described as “season-ending” surgery the following day. Since then, the Blazers have yet to make the possibility of Oden’s return this year a legitimate issue.

Oden was averaging career highs in points (11.1), rebounds (8.5), blocks (2.3) and shooting percentage (60.5) before his injury.

But despite missing Portland’s last 43 games, Oden said he is doing everything he can to return to the court as soon as possible.

“They want me to do everything pain-free,” Oden said. “So, whatever I can do pain-free, I’ll do it.”

The No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft practiced shooting drills Friday, alternating short-range baskets with hook shots and free throws.

He recently began running on a treadmill, after being told by the team’s doctors and trainers that his leg looks “good” and now only requires added strength.

But all of Oden’s progress is shadowed by reality.

He barely lifted his left leg off the ground while shooting Friday. His treadmill-based running has been a light jog during which he only uses 70 percent of his body weight.

And he has been unable to watch Portland’s home games from the bench, because he cannot bend his knee for an extended period.

Still, when a reporter questioned the reality of Oden’s ambition, he quickly fired back with a confident, strong answer.

“You be realistic,” Oden said. “I’m going to stay happy. All right?”

Notes

Blazers center Marcus Camby is listed as questionable for Sunday’s road game against the Denver Nuggets. Camby sprained his left ankle during Friday’s practice. X-rays on his ankle were negative.