When Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury in a Team USA exhibition this summer, the assumption was that he would miss the entire 2014-15 season with the Indiana Pacers while rehabbing. Yet that expectation changed several weeks ago — George told Yahoo's own Marc Spears that he had plans to practice by March 1 and return to real-live NBA games some time in the middle of the month. The plan seemed optimistic, but also made the return of one of the NBA's most exciting players much more real.
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George appears to be sticking to his timeline. The two-time All-Star was a full participant in Pacers practice for the first time since his injury Thursday, or three days before his self-imposed date. Michael Marot of the Associated Press has more:
When asked if his vertical jump was back, he joked that it was fine in his left leg. He also noted he needs to be in better condition and move better than he did Thursday to regain his elite form. [...]
Indiana is playing it safe with one of the NBA's brightest young players. The 24-year-old forward who led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals the last two seasons, spent the last portion of practice working on the wing and near the top of the key to avoid unnecessary contact.
In some ways, George already looks like his old self. He smiled and slapped hands with teammates when they ran plays. He worked out mostly with the Pacers' regular starters, took some long range and midrange shots and was one of the last players to leave the court after another round of individual shooting drills.
The biggest change Thursday, though, was that he participated in full-court drills - something he was prohibited from doing when he last spoke with reporters three weeks ago. [...]
George said he has passed tests on his running, jumping and cutting abilities. After practice, he also said the leg felt good though he admitted he does go through bouts of soreness, something that will continue to be monitored. [...]
''Things are looking good,'' he said. ''After it happened, I didn't think I'd be at this point right now, but I'm happy to be at this point now.''
You can also check out video of Marc's conversation with George at All-Star Weekend:
The key point to remember is that George practicing ahead of schedule does not mean that he will return to games on the same timeline, or even at all this season. The situation is fluid as it applies to George's health — he may wake up with considerable soreness after pushing himself, or find that his status stops progressing so quickly once he reaches a particular threshold. For that matter, as we learned with Derrick Rose during his rehab from the ACL tear that kept him out of the entire 2012-13 season, being cleared to play does not necessarily mean that the player is comfortable taking part in games.
If George does play by mid-March, though, then the Pacers would stand to benefit from his presence. At 23-34, Indiana is among a handful of teams vying for the final few playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. George could make a difference in that race even if he's not able to play at an All-Star level. Plus, getting reacquainted to the NBA game could help prepare him for next season and answer questions about his availability for any free agents (not to mention his own confidence).
Regardless of his potential impact, the mere fact that George isn't mired in a long and complicated rehab process is good news for the NBA and its fans. The league is better with him involved. Here's hoping George is able to return at his best, whenever that may be.
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