Pacers F Granger nears return from heel injury

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger, an All-Star last season, expects to play soon after missing the past month because of an injured heel.

His return date is uncertain, but he practiced on Wednesday and Thursday with no pain.

“I think I’m very, very close to playing,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s just a matter of everybody, the coaches and the training staff, all giving me the OK to go forward.”

Granger won’t play Friday at Minnesota or Saturday at Oklahoma City.

“He’s out this weekend,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “He’s not going to play this week. The step that he’s at right now, he’s practicing with the idea of getting him into game shape. It’s different than running on the treadmill or in the pool. You’ve got to get out there and play 5-on-5.”

Granger won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last season. He averaged 25.8 points per game, trailing only Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki.

The Pacers could use a spark. They are 5-11 since Granger has been out, and Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster also have missed games due to injury.

Granger aggravated his already sore heel on Dec. 5 against the Los Angeles Clippers. The team expected him to miss a minimum of four weeks with a torn right plantar fascia, the tissue across the bottom of the foot connecting the heel and toes.

The injury came as Granger was solifidying his reputation as one of the league’s top scorers. He averaged 24.4 points in 17 games. Now, he is focused on long-term health.

“I have a lot of career left,” he said. “I look at it that way. I was fortunate. For my first four years, I really didn’t have too many injuries. Injuries happen, they’re part of the NBA. I just want to be able to be 100 percent and bounce back from it.”

Granger missed a month last season with a torn tendon in the same foot. He returned before he was fully healed and still averaged 28.4 points over the final 15 games of the season.

Granger said his latest injury is an extension of the previous one.

“It’s connected,” he said. “It was all part of the plantar fasciitis. It should be better now since it ripped off the bone. That actually helped, so once it’s gone (the injury), it should be totally gone.”

Granger said he needs to get used to the jumping and the contact again.

“I’m not that far off,” he said. “It’s mostly in my legs. My lungs are getting there because I’ve been doing a lot of conditioning up to this point.”

He said it’s been difficult to watch the team lose.

“It’s a challenge, especially when we’re losing five, six games in a row and guys are kind of hanging their heads,” he said. “We’re going to keep playing the games, and they’re going to keep coming. We have to find a way to make it through it.”