Paul George says he plans on mid-March return to Pacers

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NEW YORK — Eight months after Paul George suffered as nasty an injury as you will ever see on a basketball court, he intends to get back on the hardwood. George is planning on a mid-March return to the Pacers, he told ProBasketballTalk on Friday.

“I want to (play this season),” George said. “March 1st was the date I wanted to be able to full on practice without limitations or restrictions, and from there see where things go. But mid-March is ideally where I want to be able to make a comeback and play my first game.

“But it’s so many steps I have to take to get to that point it’s just a date I threw out.”

It’s a date that should make Pacers fans happy. At the All-Star break, the Pacers are just two games out of the playoffs in the East and George’s return could push them into the eight seed in a season that at one point early on seemed lost.

George, a two-time All-Star, who averaged 21.7 points and 6.8 rebounds a game, said he believes he will come back a better player than the one we last saw.

“The only thing that I could have done for three or four months was dribble the basketball and shoot the basketball,” George said. “So I definitely think my ball handling, and my shooting has improved, and my strength is improved. Those three were the biggest things I needed to work on going into the next season. It’s almost been a blessing in disguise that I was injured, to really focus on those points. So I’m excited to make the comeback.”

Back in July, George was going to be a key part of Team USA’s defense of its World Championship. Then in an exhibition game in Las Vegas he went up to block a shot on a fast break, his leg caught the stanchion just wrong as he landed, and George suffered a compound fracture that had his bone sticking up through his skin. The gruesome nature of the injury was a key reason Kevin Durant walked away from Team USA this summer.

“Now it’s just about getting the confidence going forward….” said George, who was promoting his new line of New Era Pacers caps he helped design. “The amount of work you have to put into it, not only to strengthen the injury, but to strengthen the whole body. Really, not to disengage from what I do. That’s been the hardest part, remaining a basketball player and without actually playing.”

Pretty soon, he could be actually playing again.