A playoff spot is within reach, with Paul George potentially available to help grab it.
Things are suddenly setting up nicely for the Indiana Pacers after they had it rough for so long. But since nothing has come easily this season, they aren’t counting on that changing now.
“Honestly, we’re not even thinking about Paul George right now,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Hopefully he can make it back this year and get in some games, but how effective is he going to be having not played in a year? This is a serious injury. He still has a lot of hurdles to pass before he’s even able to get back on the court.
“So our whole approach has been that he’s not going to play with us this year. Even right now, we’re trying to become the best possible team we can without him and if he gets back, that’s just going to be a bonus.”
George broke his right leg playing in a USA Basketball exhibition game last summer, not long after that horrific accident. Lance Stephenson left as a free agent. George Hill and David West had lengthy absences early in the season, and the Pacers dug themselves a big hole.
They have won five straight and 11 of 13 to move into a tie for eighth in the Eastern Conference at 28-34. George has resumed practicing and hopes to return this season, which would provide offensive punch to a team that has regained its defensive identity as other players got healthy.
“They hang their hat on the defensive end and they’re good at that, so I’m not surprised that they’ve been able to play a little bit better in recent weeks,” said Knicks coach Derek Fisher, whose team lost twice to Indiana last week. “And I guess the news is that he’ll possibly be back soon, and I think they’ll be a tough team if they’re able to get into the playoffs.”
George would give the Pacers a 20-point scorer and a fourth starter who played for them in the last two Eastern Conference finals. Yet the Pacers, opening a four-game homestand Tuesday, will only focus on the players available now.
“I think our approach shouldn’t be thinking about him. It should be just playing hard, building a team, make sure we’re ready to compete and to play with anybody, and then if he comes in, he’s in good health and he’s in good shape, then maybe he can take us to the next level,” forward Luis Scola said.
“But expecting him to come back and help us right away, I think it’s unrealistic but also it’s unfair to him. We’ve got to take care of our own problems ourselves and be in a great situation for when he comes back.”
Some things to watch this week:
REMEMBER THE ALAMO? LeBron James surely recalls his last trip to San Antonio, where he played his last game as an NBA champion and Miami Heat player in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. He’s back Thursday when Cleveland visits the Spurs.
ROAD TRIPPING: Conference tournament time in college basketball means some NBA clubs have to hit the road while their arena is being used. The Knicks (Big East tournament), Nets (Atlantic 10) and Rockets (Southwestern Athletic Conference) will spend part or all of this week on the road.
THEY MEET AGAIN: When Kevin Garnett sat out Brooklyn’s victory over San Antonio in December, some wondered if the NBA had seen the last Garnett-Tim Duncan matchup, with both 38-year-olds in the final year of their contracts. But with Garnett back West in Minnesota, they could face off again Sunday.
ONE (MOORE) TIME: Chicago visits Oklahoma City on Sunday, a little more than a week after E’Twaun Moore made a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left as the Bulls edged the Thunder 108-105 at home.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Tim Duncan, Spurs: 0 for 8. Duncan went without a field goal for the first time in 1,310 career games, ending his NBA-record streak while scoring three points in Sunday’s 116-105 victory over Chicago.
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