March 13, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George is putting this weekend's comeback plan on ice. The concept of returning later this season is still heating up.

Indiana's two-time All-Star told reporters Friday he's much closer to playing now than when he returned to full practices two weeks ago, his most strenuous work since running into a basket stanchion and gruesomely snapping his right leg in two places Aug. 1 in Las Vegas.

''The Paul George today blows away the Paul George from then,'' he said. ''The reason the Paul George now would blow out the Paul George of two or three weeks ago is because I can move a lot better.''

The changes are noticeable.

When George started practicing Feb. 26, he was protecting his injured leg and appeared to be dragging it slightly on defense. Today, there is no evidence of those flaws.

But that doesn't mean he's in playing shape yet.

George targeted mid-March as a possible return date and even suggested Saturday's home game against Boston or Monday's home game against Toronto would be ideal. That's not going to happen.

Coach Frank Vogel said the delay was not the result of a setback.

Neither Vogel nor the team had established an official timetable for George's return, other than to say the bone was expected to be fully healed by March 1, and George could begin practicing after that date. George returned three days sooner than expected -- a stunningly rapid recovery for someone most expected to miss the entire season.

''He's not ready yet, but when he is, we'll let you know,'' Vogel said Friday.

There's no reason for the Pacers (30-34) to rush George back.

Since Feb. 1, Indiana is a league-best 13-2 and has gone from 15 games under .500 to the No. 7 spot in the East. After winning seven in a row, the Pacers trail Milwaukee just 3 1/2 games for the No. 6 spot.

Some fans around Indianapolis contend the Pacers are actually playing better now, without George, than they were at this time last year. Indiana would up losing in the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight season. George doesn't want to do anything that would mess up the chemistry or rotation -- something that could threaten his hopes of a return this season.

''I think if it gets to the point that these guys are in the playoffs and we're talking about coming back, we might as well let these guys finish that out,'' he said.

The question, of course, is how long will it take George to start looking like his old self?

There were indications at practice this week that things were getting back to normal. He wore a headband Wednesday, has been seen smiling and joking and sticking around for extra shooting practice and his defensive skills are coming back, too.

He said the on-and-off soreness he previously felt has been minimal recently. And when asked what kind of grade he would give himself, he said ''A-plus-plus-plus.''

But the Pacers are continuing to be cautious with their star player.

''We probably won't get him right in for 40 minutes,'' Vogel said with a laugh. ''But when he's practiced, he's practiced all out.''

Even if George would like to be back on the floor sooner rather than later.

''I want to play, but I don't want to play under any terms, just getting out there,'' George said. ''I want to be fully healthy.

''I definitely feel like I have made strides since the last time I talked to you guys,'' he added. ''That was my first practice. But I could definitely blow that guy out of the water.''

You May Like