When Mike Miller arrived for work Monday night, the Miami Heat had a gift waiting in his locker: a jersey.
Miller was in uniform for the first time this season when the Heat faced the Dallas Mavericks, and although coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game that the swingman was not guaranteed of getting minutes, the veteran made his debut with 3:52 left in the first half.
He entered the game to a loud ovation, checking in for James Jones, and got a congratulatory slap from Mario Chalmers as he walked onto the floor.
Miller sat out the first 29 games while recovering from a broken thumb and torn ligament in his right hand, his shooting one.
Spoelstra and Heat president Pat Riley met Monday afternoon to decide if the time was right to let Miller dress.
"We both decided that he's ready to suit," Spoelstra said.
Ordinarily, the Heat prefer to have injured players go through one full practice before returning to the lineup. Because Miami won't have one of those until Wednesday, Miller got the go-ahead.
"It's very encouraging," Heat forward LeBron James said. "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."
For his career, Miller has averaged 13.7 points on 46 percent shooting, 41 percent shooting from 3-point range. He was second in the NBA in 3-point shooting last season, making 48 percent, and signed with Miami this past summer.
Miller likely will be used in short stints for the next few games, especially since there isn't a glaring need for help right now in the Miami rotation. The Heat entered Monday on a 12-game winning streak, and Miller himself said he might have to sacrifice some minutes for now to keep things rolling.
"I'd like to play," Miller said before Spoelstra and Riley made their decision. "But I also understand the big picture."
Miller was hurt Oct. 20 when his hand got tangled in James' jersey during a drill in practice and had surgery two days later. He has been shooting for several weeks, has been working on his conditioning throughout the recovery and was cleared for contact last week — about a month ahead of the schedule originally expected.
Miller said he's in shape — but "game shape," as they say, will only come in time.
Barring a change in plans, Miller will go through a workout Tuesday (the team is scheduled to be off), then practice Wednesday before the team flies to Phoenix for a Thursday game against the Suns. He's been clamoring to play since last week and hoped to make his debut last Friday when the Heat visited the New York Knicks.
"Sometimes as a player you feel ready before everyone else feels you're ready. ... Mike is ready," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.