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Danny Granger could return to the Pacers' lineup as soon as Friday

Danny Granger hasn't played a regular season game since March due to knee and hamstring injuries. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)Danny Granger hasn't played a regular-season game since March due to knee and hamstring injuries. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Pacers have done rather well without the full utility of their roster, but could soon add the final piece that would allow them to test their limits. Former All-Star forward Danny Granger has largely watched from the sidelines as Paul George and Roy Hibbert grew into bigger roles with the team, though he could soon be checking in to support them, per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star. Granger first returned to practice last Friday after aggravating a calf injury in the preseason, and is eyeing a game against the Bobcats this coming Friday for his return:

"There's a good chance. A very good chance," Granger said. "I'm working on it everyday."

After shootaround in preparation for the Miami Heat, Granger said that if the Pacers were playing a lesser opponent on Tuesday then he would have tried to return tonight. However, Granger, who has missed every game this season with a strained left calf, described his only hindrance as conditioning.

"I'll have a minutes limit, strictly because I have to play my way into shape," Granger said. "We don't have enough practice for me to practice my way into shape. It's literally going to be in games where I am playing where I get in shape."

It's probably wise of Granger to sit out Tuesday night's game against the Heat, who are not only of a much higher caliber than most Pacer opponents but also play a more furious style. The last thing Granger needs is to overdo it in his first game back, which playing against Miami all but requires. Add in the heightened intensity that comes with this being the first matchup between the two teams since last year's Eastern Conference Finals, and it makes sense that Granger might wait a few days to clear this game off the slate.

Granger's Tuesday absence is tidy for narrative purposes as well, considering that he missed all but five games of the 2012-13 season with a knee injury. Granger did not contribute on the court to the team that came within a single game of the NBA Finals, nor did he play any role in amping up the Pacers' rivalry with the Heat. He'll thus take in Tuesday's game just as he did all seven thrilling contests of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals -- as closely and supportively as one can be in street clothes on the bench.

When Granger finally does return to the court, though, the experiment of feeling out his proper role begins. There should no longer be much debate over whether Granger should assume Lance Stephenson's spot in the starting lineup, but Frank Vogel still has a lot to figure out in terms of how to best use Granger and which lineups he could most help. It's not an issue that's likely to be resolved in a matter of games or even weeks; Indiana won't quite know what Granger can offer until he has a chance to work his way back into shape and rhythm, both of which require patience.
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