MIAMI (AP) — Indiana’s Paul George will play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, which comes as no surprise to the Miami Heat.
They were expecting him there all along.
The Pacers announced Friday night that George has been cleared “to return to normal basketball activity,” a decision made three days after he was concussed in Game 2 of the Indiana-Miami series.
“Barring any unforeseen complications, he will play” on Saturday in Miami, the Pacers said.
So that settled one lineup issue.
The Heat now have a lineup decision to make.
Greg Oden — whose last postseason appearance was April 30, 2009 — may be inserted into the Heat rotation after showing Miami’s coaches in recent days that back issues that slowed him down for weeks may finally be a thing of the past. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra suggested that Oden “could” get some minutes, which would almost certainly come against Indiana center Roy Hibbert.
“If coach needs me, I’m ready to play,” Oden said. “I’m definitely ready whenever he needs me.”
The series is tied at a game apiece, with Miami grabbing the home-court edge away by rallying for an 87-83 win at Indianapolis in Game 2. The teams have been off since, which figures to be a blessing of sorts for the Pacers — who had several players limping and ailing late in that game, with George’s concussion the most notable malady.
The back of George’s head was struck by Dwyane Wade’s knee as both were trying to get control of a loose ball during the fourth quarter of that game. George remained in the game but was basically a non-factor the rest of the way, and Miami owned the final minutes. The concussion came to light only after George revealed postgame that he briefly “blacked out.”
“I probably should have kept that to myself,” George said. “It just made a mess. That’s something that, going forward, just keep that between myself and the training staff.”
The Heat never even considered the possibility that George wouldn’t play in Game 3.
“Why wouldn’t he?” Heat star LeBron James asked.
Wade said he wanted to see George out there, because competitors always want to play against the best, particularly at this time of year. And in these playoffs, no one has looked better on the road — especially defensively — than the Pacers, who still haven’t won even two consecutive home games in this postseason but have won five in a row away from home.
Atlanta and Washington combined to shoot only 38 percent at home against Indiana in the opening two rounds, averaging just 84.8 points per game. The Pacers haven’t exactly been offensive juggernauts in those games, averaging 90.7 points themselves, but the airtight defense was enough for Indiana to save its season by winning elimination games in both matchups.
“We played at a high level in the Washington series, and those last two against Atlanta when we were down in the series, we played with great desperation,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys take pride in their defense. That’s probably why you see those numbers.”
Then again, the Heat present a bit more of a challenge than the Hawks and Wizards.
“I don’t know if the home court really matters right now in the playoffs,” Spoelstra said. “It’s more about your collective disposition, and you’re imposing that identity on the other team. I think either team could win home or away.”
Miami is 5-0 at home in the postseason, winning by an average of 10 points per game and shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. Going back to last season, the Heat have won eight straight playoff games in their own building and since James joined the club they’re 35-7 at home during the postseason.
Among those seven losses? The Pacers won at Miami in both 2012 and 2013.
And that’s why Miami knows having the home-court edge now hardly assures a series win.
“Both teams can win on each other’s floor. We’ve proven that the last couple years,” James said. “We have to protect our home, but we can’t go out there saying that just because we’re back home we get automatic wins. We’ve got to play.”
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