Heat-Pacers Preview

(AP) - Paul George was so excited he took a picture of his game shoes and posted it online.

No more street clothes for the two-time All-Star. The wait is over.

A little more than eight months after breaking his right leg during a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas, George will make his season debut Sunday night against the visiting Miami Heat.

Coach Frank Vogel said George will play about 10 to 15 minutes, likely in the first and third quarters.

"It's almost like being drafted again and getting thrown back out there again for the first time. It's that same feel," said George, who will be wearing his new No. 13 for the first time.

Larry Bird, president of basketball operations for the Pacers, said Saturday that George had been cleared for game action a while ago, but was kept out because he was still working out with a limp. Before Friday night's 93-74 victory over Charlotte, George started lobbying harder, but still couldn't convince the top brass to let him play.

Indiana (33-43) is tied for the No. 10 spot in the East with the Hornets, 1 1/2 games behind Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot and a game behind ninth-place Miami (34-42).

Less than 24 hours after the victory over Charlotte jump-started the Pacers' fading playoff hopes, Bird and other team officials decided to put their biggest star back on the court.

"He's not going to run as smooth as he used to, but over time he'll get better and better. Just in the last month I've seen a major difference," Bird said. "Everybody thinks Paul George is coming back and that he's 100 percent, but he's not 100 percent and he's in no condition to go out and play a 30-minute game."

But it's quite a turnaround from Aug. 1, when George ran into a basketball stanchion and broke his leg in two places. He had surgery within hours, and then returned to Indianapolis three days later.

After returning to full practices Feb. 26, three days sooner than expected, the biggest question in Indy was whether it would be wise to bring George back. George said he has participated in full contact drills over that time and he is confident he will not re-injure the leg.

Now George will make his grand entrance against the team that has eliminated Indiana from the playoffs each of the past three seasons - including twice in the Eastern Conference finals.

"I probably won't be able to sleep (Saturday night), but I'm excited," George said. "I'm excited to get over this hurdle."

Apparently, George faced a bigger hurdle than initially thought.

Team doctor Tim Hupfer said George had a 14-millimeter by 420-millimeter titanium rod inserted into the bone and then underwent a second surgery in October, a procedure the team had not previously divulged.

"We did some things to help increase the stress across the fracture and stimulate some healing," Hupfer said.

Hupfer also said the medical staff will monitor whether George has any pain in the leg but there are no other medical limitations.

"It was me," George said when asked who made the final decision. "But I had to push it through Larry and the whole front office. But it was me telling everybody I was ready. We kind of knew it would be around this time. I just told them I was ready."

The Heat looked like they'd end Saturday tied with Brooklyn for seventh in the East, but wound up below the cut. Miami led Detroit by nine points with two minutes left, but the Pistons ended the game on a 10-0 run to win 99-98.

"We're all very disappointed in this locker room right now but it has to be a quick turnaround," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Thankfully we play (Sunday)."

Whether they have a few key big men remains to be seen. Hassan Whiteside reopened a right hand laceration in the second quarter against the Pistons - he was initially hurt March 24 - and Chris Andersen left after being kicked in the foot.

Both are considered questionable.

The Pacers can lock up a potential head-to-head tiebreaker over the Heat with a win. They took the first two meetings of the season before falling 89-87 at Miami on Jan. 23.

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