The moment has finally come for Paul George.
George's rigorous road to recovery following a gruesome leg injury last summer has finally reached its end. The two-time NBA All-Star has missed the entire season after breaking his right leg during a Team USA scrimmage in August. He was initially projected to miss the entire 2014-15 season.
"The recovery has been a long process and this is another step in the process," George said. "I thank everyone, my family, friends, doctors, our training staff, coaches, the entire Pacers family for their support and encouragement. I'm excited, but at the same time I'm aware I'm still in a rehab stage and will continue to work to get back to full strength."
Indiana was riding high with seven straight wins from Feb. 27 to March 12 and thrust itself back into the playoff mix in a weak Eastern Conference. However, times have been rough on the Pacers with only three wins in the last 12 games and the return of George couldn't have come at a better time.
George is expected to be a little rusty and his minutes will be monitored, but the Pacers need a boost in this playoff hunt. George averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 80 games last season.
"We're happy to have Paul back in uniform, and this is just another step in his rehabilitation from the injury," Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird said. "He has worked hard to get to this point and still has work to do, but it's a positive step toward what we hope will be a full recovery at some point. His minutes will be limited in games he plays as we evaluate his progress moving forward."
The Pacers are 1 1/2 games behind Boston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East and Miami is in between at just a half-game off the pace. Charlotte is keeping things interesting, sitting in the same position as Indiana with identical 33-43 records.
Indiana ended a two-game slide its last time out in Friday's 93-74 victory over the pesky Hornets, as Rodney Stuckey scored 15 points, C.J. Watson added 13 and C.J. Miles finished with 12 points. George Hill handed out 10 assists and Luis Scola pulled down 11 rebounds.
"The guys were just hungry for a win, came in with a lot of desperation and got the win," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Vogel earned his 200th win as head coach in the process.
The Pacers have won back-to-back games at home and are 20-18 in Indy. They will visit New York and Detroit next.
Meanwhile, Miami will try to salvage the finale of a three-game road trip Sunday against the Pacers and is coming off Saturday's 99-98 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Pistons guard Reggie Jackson was Mr. April with 15 of his 29 points in the fourth, including a late layup that propelled his team to victory. Jackson was able to pull Detroit out of a 15-point deficit in the final stanza.
"Terrible loss," Wade said. "It's going to be tough to get over this one. No way we should lose this game."
Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng scored 13 points apiece for the Heat. Whiteside is questionable against the Pacers with a hand injury.
The Heat are winless in three straight on the road and 16-23 as the visitor this season. They will begin the final homestand of the season Tuesday versus Charlotte, Chicago, Toronto and Orlando.