Mike Miller makes season debut for Heat

MIAMI -- Mike Miller was cast in a new role in his first game with the Miami Heat after recovering from thumb surgery: emergency sharpshooter.

Miller made his debut in the Heat's game Monday night against the visiting Dallas Mavericks, coming off the bench, even though coach Erik Spoelstra said he probably wouldn't use the veteran swingman unless it was absolutely necessary.

After missing the first two months of the season, Miller had one final hurdle to clear before he was added to the Heat's active roster. Spoelstra met with team president Pat Riley before Monday's game to determine if Miller would be available. Miller, who is about a month ahead of schedule in his return from Oct. 22 right-thumb surgery, was hoping to see his first regular-season action with the Heat.

"We probably won't play him tonight," Spoelstra said 90 minutes before tipoff of Monday's game against the Mavericks. "If the situation calls for it, I may throw him in there. But the plan is still to go ahead with our practice, give him a workout tomorrow."

Apparently the situation did call for it in the second quarter as Miller checked in for James Jones. Miller went 0 for 4 in the first half.

Miller was added to the active roster, in part, as insurance in case reserve guard Mario Chalmers was unable to play due to a illness. Miller was cleared to return to practice last week, and Spoelstra said the injury is healed. But the team remains cautious because Miller has not taken much contact on the thumb. The Heat (21-8) also have won 12 consecutive games since their 9-8 start, and have settled on a rotation.

Spoelstra said that when the sharpshooter did get in a game, he would be methodically worked into the rotation.

"Obviously, I want to play, but I understand the bigger picture," Miller said. "There will have to be sacrifices made, and maybe it'll have to be me. I think they just want to make sure I'm comfortable taking hits. That's going to be a big part of it. One more practice isn't going to hurt anything."

Miller traveled with the team during its weekend trip to New York and Washington, and worked out extensively during the team's morning workouts. Miller sustained the injury Oct. 20 in a preseason practice while guarding LeBron James during a defensive drill. Miller's right hand got caught in James' jersey.

"It's very encouraging," James said Monday. "Not only for us, but for him personally. I know he's been really excited to try to get back healthy and get back playing with this team. We've been waiting for him."

Miller has been fitted with a special brace designed to limit the impact of blows to his right shooting hand. But Miller said there is still some discomfort when he catches passes and dribbles aggressively to the basket.

Jones, a reserve, has filled in for Miller and ranks 15th in the league in 3-point shooting at 44.5 percent. Backup point guard Chalmers, who is also getting minutes that might otherwise go to Miller, has also played well in recent weeks.

But Miller is expected to have a significant impact on the Heat, who signed him to a five-year, $29 million contract in free agency after they secured long-term deals with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Miller's shooting, playmaking ability and rebounding are expected to make his transition into the rotation relatively seamless.

"He is suiting up tonight, and he's excited about that," Spoelstra said. "He was surprised when we had his jersey laid out for him in his locker."

Michael Wallace covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.