INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's Danny Granger is ready to return to the lineup. Houston's Jeremy Lin is not.
As the Pacers' former All-Star prepared to make his season debut Friday against Houston, Rockets coach Kevin McHale said Lin would miss his third straight game with back spasms.
Here, though, the focus continues to center Granger, a popular player and former All-Star who has been hobbled by injuries for nearly 15 months. Granger played in only five games last season because of a left knee injury and hasn't played at all this season because of a strained left calf.
The circumstances, and Indiana's fast start, allowed coach Frank Vogel to play it extra safe — urging Granger to wait until the pain was completely gone before returning to practice — and now Vogel plans to take a similarly cautious approach as Granger works his way into game shape.
"He'll probably play 15 to 20 minutes tonight, getting the backup wing minutes behind Lance (Stephenson) and Paul (George)," Vogel said. "I think there's going to be an adjustment period, that's the only way you can evaluate him. I think some nights, we'll see him play at an All-Star level and some nights, he's going to be off. Hopefully, we'll see more nights toward the All-Star level."
Getting Granger back could be a boon for the Pacers.
At 20-5, they still went into Friday's game with the best record in the Eastern Conference, a commanding eight-game lead in the Central Division, leading the NBA in scoring defense and defensive field goal percentage and with one of the most physical front lines in basketball.
What they've been looking for is little more scoring punch — something a healthy Granger could provide.
Before the injury-plagued 2012-13 season, Granger led the Pacers in scoring for five consecutive seasons. And while nobody expects Granger to compete at that level right away, if he gets anywhere close this season, the Pacers could finally have their last link to this season's big mission — getting home-court advantage in the East and dethroning two-time defending NBA champ Miami.