NEW ORLEANS (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat won Wednesday night’s preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans, but it wasn’t the victory that everyone was talking about after the game. Instead it was four minutes of the game that represented a giant step for a Heat big man.

Heat center Greg Oden returned to an NBA court Wednesday night for the first time since December 5, 2009, a span of 1,418 days. Oden played just four minutes against the Pelicans, but his night was punctuated by a dunk the first time he touched the ball.

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“It’s been a long time and I’ve been wanting to get out there,” Oden said. “It was only a couple minutes, but it was what I needed, what I can handle right now and, you know, small baby steps.”

Oden is trying to come back from a plethora of knee injuries and surgeries that have plagued him since he first entered the league as the number one overall pick in 2007. The Heat saw Oden as low-risk, high-reward and signed him during the offseason.

Miami is playing it very slowly with Oden. The Heat is taking small steps to see how his knees respond to increased activity on the court. That’s why, even though it was just four minutes of action, it was the perfect situation for Oden.

“In December it would have been 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 definitely felt love. And I’m excited that they (teammates) were there for me.”

His teammates were more than just there for him, they cheered him on at every step and continue to want him to make a full comeback.

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“I can just imagine how excited he was to get back out there,” Heat superstar LeBron James said. “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.”

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden’s face came alive when he told him he was going into the game.

“It was just great to see him do something he loves to do. It was taken away from him for four years,” Spoelstra said after the game. “We just continue to make patient, steady progress forward from here.”

What happens from here could be the difference for the Heat to take home a third straight NBA championship. Oden, when healthy, is a strong, dominant seven-foot center who can matchup with any big man in the NBA.

When Oden was in college, he played 32 games at Ohio State and averaged 30 minutes, 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per game. The Heat don’t need Oden to give them that many minutes or points. What they need is a healthy Oden throughout the playoffs.

If Oden can get healthy and step into a big role come playoff time; the Heat may truly be an unstoppable team on its way to a three-peat.

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