The Pacers are 8-0, have a 3.5 game lead atop the Eastern Conference and they are feeling very good about their best start in franchise history. Soon, they hope to finally add another piece to the puzzle.
Forward Danny Granger is scheduled to return to practice on Tuesday after being held out more than three weeks due to a strained left calf. When he might slip on his jersey and check in during a game has yet to be determined. It’s a slow, incremental process for Granger to ensure he’s healthy.
"We won't have a formal practice but he'll get some individual work where he's playing two-on-two, or three-on-three,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “We'll try to get him some full-court work and then he'll practice Wednesday and Thursday. I still think it's going to be a new beginning of a process to get his game legs back under him and his game timing, which is where we were working towards when he got injured.”
Granger first suffered the calf strain in his left leg at a home game on Oct. 16 against Dallas. He then had an MRI, which showed that it was nothing serious. Granger started two nights later and admittedly played his best basketball since the 2012 Playoffs. However, the strain flared up and he's been out ever since - almost a month.
Back on Oct. 28 when the team declared him out for approximately three weeks, Granger shrugged off the injury. He said he’s even had strains before and it hasn’t caused him to miss any time.
"I'm not discouraged at all because honestly, where I've been and to the point I am now, my knee’s been fine,” he said. “I'm very happy. I’ve had a muscle strain – big deal."
The team has told him that they won’t let him play until it’s completely gone.
"We want him to be pain-free because we don't want this to be something that lingers," Vogel said. "My understanding is that he's [currently] pain-free. … But anybody that's had a muscle strain knows that it doesn't really start grabbing at you until you really push it."
The measuring stick now will be his conditioning. He’s stayed active in the weight room, worked out in the pool and rode an elliptical while watching practice. The injury hasn’t kept him from shooting. He’s occasionally at the other end of the floor when the team is practicing, getting shots up on his own. What he’s stayed away from is running and jumping, because that’s when he would feel a knot in the strain. Doing those items without hesitation or pain will be the initial challenge.
Issues with his left knee caused Granger to miss all but five games in 2012-13, including the postseason, where the Pacers pushed the Miami Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He absolutely believes the calf strain is the result of limited work last season.
“100 percent,” he stated positively. “I’ve had other players tell me, ‘Look, when you’re coming back and you haven’t played in a year, not only do you have to get what you injured healthy, but the rest of your body got to get acclimated to doing what you’ve been doing for the past 10 years.’”
Granger’s in the last year of his contract and is eager to get back on the floor. He isn’t, however, worried about missing a handful of games early on. He, like the entire team, wants to go the distance.
"We want to play 100 [games],” he said. “On the grand scheme of things, it's not really that big of deal."
Throughout his nine-year career, Granger has always been a slow starter. It might take him a week or two to get in game shape while also putting game-like pressure on his calf. Vogel said he will definitely come off the bench to start and with the way Lance Stephenson is playing, there seems to be no good reason not to let those five starters carry on. When healthy, Granger further enhances the Pacers’ weaponry off the bench.
"I'll probably have a time frame where for X number of games or so, he'll come off the bench and probably get some of the minutes Orlando Johnson and Solomon Hill are getting,” said Vogel.
"Then, we'll see where it goes from there."