Pacers' George to return against Miami
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George was so excited he took a picture of his game shoes and posted it online.
No more street clothes for the two-time All-Star. The wait is over.
A little more than eight months after breaking his right leg during a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas, George will make his season debut Sunday night against Miami. Coach Frank Vogel said George will play about 10 to 15 minutes, likely in the first and third quarters.
"It's almost like being drafted again and getting thrown back out there again for the first time. It's that same feel," said George, who will be wearing his new No. 13 for the first time.
Larry Bird, the president of basketball operations for the Pacers, said Saturday that George had been cleared for game action a while ago, but was kept out because he was still working out with a limp. Before Friday night's 93-74 victory over Charlotte, George started lobbying harder, but still couldn't convince the top brass to let him play.
Indiana started Saturday in the No. 10 spot in the East, 1 1/2 games behind Miami for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Less than 24 hours after the victory over the Hornets jump-started the Pacers' fading playoff hopes, Bird and other team officials decided to put their biggest star back on the court.
"He's not going to run as smooth as he used to, but over time he'll get better and better. Just in the last month I've seen a major difference," Bird said. "Everybody thinks Paul George is coming back and that he's 100 percent, but he's not 100 percent and he's in no condition to go out and play a 30-minute game."
But it's quite a turnaround from Aug. 1, when George ran into a basketball stanchion and broke his leg in two places. He had surgery within hours, and then returned to Indianapolis three days later.
After returning to full practices Feb. 26, three days sooner than expected, the biggest question in Indy was whether it would be wise to bring George back. George said he has participated in full contact drills over that time and he is confident he will not re-injure the leg.
Now George will make his grand entrance on the biggest basketball weekend in Indianapolis this season.
Just a few hours after George spoke and a few blocks away from the Pacers' home court, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the NCAA's Final Four was set to tip off. The national championship game will be played there Monday night.
In between, George will suit up against the team that has eliminated Indiana from the playoffs each of the past three seasons including twice in the Eastern Conference finals.
"I probably won't be able to sleep tonight, but I'm excited," George said. "I'm excited to get over this hurdle."
Apparently, George faced a bigger hurdle than initially thought.
Team doctor Tim Hupfer said George had a 14-milimeter by 420-milimeter titanium rod inserted into the bone and then underwent a second surgery in October, a procedure the team had not previously divulged.
"We did some things to help increase the stress across the fracture and stimulate some healing," Hupfer said.
Hupfer also said the medical staff will monitor whether George has any pain in the leg but there are no other medical limitations.
Still unclear is how much the Pacers can expect from George.
Before the injury, the 6-foot-9, 230-pound swingman was one of the league's bright young stars. His scoring average had improved by at least four points in each of his first four NBA seasons, and the swingman was named the league's most improved player in 2012-13.
While he's been out, George said he has added about 10 pounds to his body and will be physically stronger when he does get back to 100 percent.
It's unclear how long that will take.
The biggest advantage to returning now is George will have a better concept of what he needs to work on during the offseason to complete his recovery, which is one reason he was pushing to make a return sooner rather than later.
"It was me," George said when asked who made the final decision. "But I had to push it through Larry and the whole front office. But it was me telling everybody I was ready. We kind of knew it would be around this time. I just told them I was ready."