AP Basketball Writer

MIAMI (AP) — There was a time when Gerald Green figured he wouldn’t be able to play basketball anymore, how the injury that robbed him of a finger would end whatever chance he had by default.

He was wrong.

And right now, the Miami Heat couldn’t be happier about that.

Green’s nomadic NBA life brought him to Miami this past summer — his ninth team in 10 years — and what might have seemed like an afterthought at the time is looking like it could become a good move for both sides. He’s been one of the biggest surprises of the Heat preseason, the team’s leading scorer in the exhibitions and coming off a 28-point outing against Washington on Wednesday night.

"Everyone is giving him the confidence to be who he is," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "I think he is very happy here. It is a great situation for him. He is a guy who ignites our team. We all allow him to do that. He is having fun and he is putting the ball in the basket. We just want him to continue to do it throughout the season."

Predictably, much of the attention Green is getting of late has been because of his offense.

Also predictably, the respect he’s getting internally has been because of his defense — or more specifically, his willingness to embrace what Miami demands on that end of the floor.

"He’s been in every single day working with the early group and watching a ton of film," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He hasn’t brought any type of entitlement to that.  You’re seeing great residuals from that work and the commitment. … He can score. You put him in situations where he has some space, he’s ignitable. But he’s been very committed to the other side of the floor and what we expect on that side of the floor."

That’s the real reason why Green will be a key part in what could be a very strong second unit for Miami when the season starts for real against Charlotte on Oct. 28.

Miami lured him for a veteran’s minimum contract, all the Heat could afford given their salary cap realities over the summer. Green didn’t balk at it and said from the outset that he thought being with the Heat gave him a chance to win.

"To wear a Miami Heat jersey, you have to lock down," said Green, who lost part of the ring finger on his right hand when he got hurt trying a dunk as a kid, yet is a former slam-dunk champion at All-Star weekend. "I knew once I came here that I was going to have to give a better effort defensively and get better defensively."

To hear his teammates assess it, so far, so good.

As a member of the Phoenix Suns, Green had 11 games last season alone where he scored more than 20 points off the bench. The Heat last season got seven 20-point games from all of their reserves combined, so it’s clear how Green should be an upgrade when it comes to scoring.

"Coach is allowing Gerald to be who he is, `Mr. Instant Offense,"’ Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "He is playing incredible offense right now. The part I like about it most is he is bringing that energy and toughness on the defensive end as well. With the talent that we have, we have to continue to give that effort. I’m happy that he is playing that well.

"I want him to keep that enthusiasm when things get tough."

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