Mike Miller looks to return Dec. 25

MIAMI -- The Miami Heat could be getting sharpshooter Mike Miller back from his thumb injury a bit sooner than expected.

Miller said Thursday he expects to make his Heat debut on Christmas Day in Los Angeles against the Lakers, a proclamation that adds even more intrigue to the highly anticipated matchup between the revamped Heat and the two-time defending NBA champions.

Miller is still recovering from Oct. 22 surgery to repair a fracture and ligament damage on the thumb of his right shooting hand. He sustained the injury on Oct. 20 when his hand got caught in the jersey of teammate LeBron James during a defensive drill in practice.

"It's definitely getting better, but it's still sore," Miller told ESPN.com Thursday night before the Heat faced the Boston Celtics at American Airlines Arena. "My goal is to get out there a little quicker than we thought. I'm looking to be out there ready to go when we play the Lakers."

The Heat originally expected Miller to unavailable until sometime in January. Miller was supposed to be in a hard cast for four weeks but has already transitioned to a less restrictive brace. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Miller would be re-evaluated by a hand specialist next week.

Barring a setback, Miller said his latest brace could be removed by Dec. 2, which would allow him to resume basketball-related workouts depending on his tolerance level.

"I just have to let that the screw they inserted heal near the bone," Miller said. "But it's getting better. After we get this [brace] off, it will take about three weeks [of rehabilitation]. I'm probably going to have to wear some kind of brace when I start to play, but it'll be all right."

Miller, a 10-year veteran, was the first player the Heat signed to anchor its supporting cast after the team brought back Dwyane Wade and added James and Chris Bosh in free agency. Miller has averaged 13.7 points and shot 40.5 percent from 3-point range for his career, which included stops in Orlando, Memphis, Minnesota and Washington before he joined the Heat.

Reserves James Jones and Eddie House have filled Miller's role as the Heat's designated long-range shooter to help spread the floor for James, Wade and Bosh. Jones entered Thursday's game ranked second in the league in made 3-point field goals. House is shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point range but missed two that could have either tied or won games at the buzzer.

Miller's ability to handle the ball, rebound and facilitate the offense have been missed amid Miami's sporadic start to the season.

"Sitting out has been straight depressing for me ... there's nothing worse than that," Miller said. "I've played 11 years to get here. And now that I'm here, I get the first surgery of my career. There are different ways I think I can help when I get back."

Michael Wallace is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.