NBA: Pacers thinking playoffs

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.

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.” (AP)