Paul George is three days ahead of schedule.
The Indiana Pacers’ two-time All-Star returned to practice Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He had hoped his rehabilitation from two broken bones in his lower right leg would have him practicing by March 1.
So he was encouraged to be running the floor in his first official workout, although both he and head coach Frank Vogel cautioned there’s still “a long way to go” for him to play.
That said, George remains “hopeful” he can play by mid-March.
George admitted it’s somewhat frustrating being unable to move as he did before breaking his leg on Aug. 1. But that was to be expected. And he’s not discouraged.
“It felt good. It felt really good,” he said. “I’ve still got some steps and some hurdles to overcome, but a (mid-March return) is still a goal of mine.”
The Pacers have said they won’t rush George back, but president Larry Bird and Vogel have conceded it would be a benefit for him to play late this season if possible to see where he’s at and strengthen the leg.
“Just continuing to put some wear and tear on it,” George said. “It’s still got to go through some pounding and get some more practices under my legs.”
The pain level fluctuates, but he’s pushed through the expected soreness.
“It fluctuates,” he said. “Some days it’s a little sore, some days it’s more sore than others. But that’s part of it. It’s nothing that’s limiting me from being in practice.”
The Pacers (23-34) are trying to earn an Eastern Conference playoff spot and have been playing well lately with wins in six of eight games. Even without George at full strength, his presence in the lineup could be a boost.
“It’s tough being out there and not being able to move at the level that I wish to or play at the level I wish to, but it’s a baby step,” he said. “I see the strides coming and I see the old PG coming back.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.