February 12, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Danny Granger's impending return has the Indiana Pacers thinking hard about how to work him back into the rotation.

He could jump right into the starting lineup and play limited minutes or he could come off the bench for a few games to get back in rhythm. He could come back as soon as Wednesday or he could wait until after the All-Star break. Whatever the decision is, the Pacers believe teaming one All-Star forward with another during the second half of the season will make them a better team come playoff time.

"Our best lineup last year was when Paul (George) and Danny were wings together,'' coach Frank Vogel said before Monday night's game against Brooklyn. "There's merit to having either one of those guys coming off the bench, but putting their length and wing span together makes us better.''

Even without Granger, the Pacers have been pretty darn good.

Indiana found out in early November that Granger, their top scorer over each of the previous five seasons, was expected to miss up to three months with patellar tendinosis in his left knee.

At first, the Pacers struggled to make up for his absence, but Vogel modified the offense, George broke out with what has easily been the best season of his three-year career and the Pacers responded by going 27-13 over the last 40 games, winning 15 of their last 16 at home and surging back into the Central Division lead.

Now they're on the verge of getting Granger back. He went through a full contact practice Sunday and returned Monday with the best news of all.

"He said he felt good and he was getting his movement back to normal,'' Vogel said after meeting with him in the afternoon.

The next test comes Tuesday when the Pacers will put Granger through another strenuous workout before Indiana hosts Charlotte on Wednesday. If all goes well, Vogel said, he could play against the Bobcats.

But with the team playing this well and the rotations flowing so smoothly, there are plenty of questions.

- How long can or should Granger play?

- How effective will he be?

- Do the Pacers need to get him on the court this week so they can work on any potentially lingering problems over the All-Star break?

- And, of course, how will everything fit when Granger does return?

One concern Vogel isn't worried about is team chemistry.

"Lance (Stephenson) knows the plan, he knows he's going back to coming off the bench when Danny returns,'' Vogel said.

Stephenson, too, is playing the best ball of his career and could still be in line to start a few more games depending on what Vogel decides to do.

After that, the Pacers will do whatever they believe they must to contend for an Eastern Conference title and NBA crown.

"We'll probably bring Danny off the bench for a short-period of time, till he gets his rhythm back,'' Vogel said. "It will probably be only a handful of games.''

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