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 CLEVELAND (AP) -LeBron James' injured finger passed the required practice test. It's game time.
James, who has missed Cleveland's past five games - all losses - with a sprained left index finger, is expected to be back in the lineup on Tuesday night when the Cavaliers host the Indiana Pacers.
Following practice on Monday, James said the finger has improved and that he didn't have any problems with it after two days of contact. The Cavaliers' megastar sounded confident that he would dress for the Pacers.
``We're going to leave it as a game-time decision,'' he said. ``I've been through two contact practices OK. We'll see what happens.''
James has been wearing a protective glove over the knuckle on his finger, which was injured on Nov. 28 when Detroit forward Nazr Mohammed whacked his hand while he was driving for a shot in a loss to the Pistons.
``It's better than it was a week and half ago,'' James said. ``The pain is going away little by little. It's not 100 percent at all right now and it probably won't be until the offseason, and I don't have an offseason until 2009.''
He will play for the United States in the Beijing Olympics this summer.
James, the NBA's leading scorer who was playing some of the best ball of his career when he got hurt, was surprised the Cavs played so poorly without him.
``Offensively not as much, but defensively we struggled,'' he said. ``You have mental lapses offensively, but you can't have those defensively no matter who is playing. We had a couple games where we just didn't give effort.''
Along with James, the Cavaliers may welcome back forward Anderson Varejao on Tuesday. Varejao, who ended a contract holdout by signing a three-year, $17 million deal last week, was in Canada getting his work visa.
If the Brazilian gets back in time, Cavs coach Mike Brown said he would likely play him against the Pacers.
Anderson's return, along with guard Larry Hughes being back after missing time with a leg bruise, has renewed confidence for the Cavaliers, the defending Eastern Conference champions who are off to a 9-12 start.
``It's starting to feel good around here, especially the last couple days of practice,'' James said. ``Everyone is back now so we're ready to start playing winning basketball again.''
James, who had never missed more than four games in a season, said not being able to play has been excruciating.
``It's not good for me,'' he said. ``It's not like I'm learning anything from watching. I don't learn nothing from watching. It's tiring. I could really fall asleep on the bench if I wanted to.''
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