POSTED: Dec 20, 2013 7:09 PM ET
NDIANAPOLIS (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.
Granger has acknowledged his goal is to be back to his old self in time for the playoffs.
"I think he understands that when you miss an entire season and you get injured early the next season, that the most important thing is to be ready for the playoffs," Vogel said.
The bigger question may be where exactly Granger fits into this lineup.
While he sat out, Pacers developed a completely different identity with George, one of the NBA's best young players, and center Roy Hibbert, a former All-Star, taking charge. Plus, Stephenson has developed into a solid starter in the spot that used to be occupied by Granger.
This is their team now, and Vogel insists Granger will be a good fit because he's a team-first guy - even if that means taking a little time to get things clicking.
"They looked really good without him, too," McHale said. "Fitting someone in is always interesting because Paul's got a flow going, Stephenson's got a flow going, so there's always a learning curve when you add new players to the mix."
Perhaps McHale hopes an out-of-sync Indiana lineup will help the Rockets (17-9) end their three-game losing streak in the Indiana series.
While he did not say how much more time Lin might miss with the back injury, the 6-foot-3 guard who became a New York sensation two years ago has been banged up all season. He missed six games with a bruised right knee and will now is sitting out his third game with the back injury.
Houston also will player without center Omar Asik, who McHale said did not make the trip. Asik has been considered a prime trade target since the Rockets signed Dwight Howard during the offseason.