March 09, 2017

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) Jabari Parker looked ahead to the future as he leaned up against a wall at the Milwaukee Bucks training center with the help of two metal crutches.

The star forward is embracing the challenge of coming back from his second left ACL injury in three seasons.

''I know I can be better,'' Parker said after the rest of the Bucks practiced on Thursday.

Parker fell to floor while driving in the third quarter of a loss on Feb. 8 to Miami, making limited contact with the defender before going down. A fan favorite and respected team presence, Parker was averaging career bests of 20.1 points and 6.1 rebounds when he got hurt, serving as a running mate to All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The injury occurred on the same night that guard Khris Middleton made his season debut from a hamstring injury, the one and only time this year that the Bucks' core trio would be on the floor at the same time. It was a stunning blow for a young team hoping to get back into the playoff picture.

There were some early growing pains adjusting again to playing without Parker. But the Bucks overall are playing better, 8-4 since Parker got hurt, including four straight wins.

Similarly, Parker is vowing to come back. The Chicago native already did it once, after all, when he returned from his first ACL injury, which ended his rookie season after 25 games in 2014-15.

Asked if this rehab period would be more arduous, Parker said ''No, it's going to be fun to tell you the truth.

''I love challenges, I love being in the position that I am in ... It feels like God's given me this for a reason, because he knows I can handle it. I take that burden because I know that a lot of people can't go through this.''

Maturity and work ethic have always been strengths for Parker since being taken by the Bucks with the second overall pick of the 2014 NBA draft. The giant images of Antetokounmpo and Parker are depicted on a large poster draped over the side of a building outside team offices near downtown Milwaukee.

Parker remained engaged during his last rehab period, and coach Jason Kidd says the forward will stay involved this time around, too. He plans to have Parker sit in on coaches meetings, much like how Middleton did while he was going through rehab.

The Bucks have said that Parker may not be come back to the floor until next February, though they know what to expect whenever he does return.

''Where Jabari has come from in terms of the first injury, to come back from that stronger and better than you saw ... he was able to raise the bar again,'' Kidd said on Thursday.

''We have the blueprint. It worked the first time,'' Kidd added.

The Bucks go for their fifth straight win when they face the Indiana Pacers on Friday. They're among four teams in the mix for the last two of eight spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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Follow Genaro Armas at: https://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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