Entering Wednesday, the Indiana Pacers have just eight games remaining in the 2014-15 NBA regular season. Will superstar Paul George make it back from his broken leg? If he does, would it even improve the Pacers' futures odds? We examine.
By George, Is He Returning?
Pacers president Larry Bird has long said he expects George to play this season and that he thinks it would be good for George's development and confidence off that gruesome injury suffered while with Team USA to get back on the court even for a handful of games. George himself has been rather wishy-washy about it, one day saying he expected to return, the next saying he wasn't going to jeopardize his long-term health. He's on record saying he thinks he can help the Pacers reach the playoffs but then contradicting himself and that perhaps the team was playing well enough without him that maybe he shouldn't come back this season.
Originally George's target date was March 14, then it was March 21. Now? George has been practicing for a while, and according to teammate Roy Hibbert, doing "windmills" -- as in dunks -- in those practices.
"Seeing the things he does in practice, it's awesome," Hibbert said. "He's coming. But I don't know what's going on with, I'm not a part of it. The training staff hasn't told us what they're planning on doing, and the front office doesn't. So they collectively talk. But the things he does in practice looks like the old PG, so whenever he comes back he'll be good... People are going to be surprised. He's going to have a big play his first couple of possessions back."
However, another anonymous teammate recently said George was still struggling with that leg and that he didn't expect George back this season. The Pacers don't want to risk the long-term health of George, who got a maximum-level extension in 2013. Generally, broken legs are pretty standard to come back from as opposed to a torn ACL (see Derrick Rose) or foot problems (see Kevin Durant). The Pacers' medical staff still hasn't cleared him.
Even a rusty George makes Indiana better and is a huge upgrade over Solomon Hill, who generally starts at small forward now. The two-time All-Star George evolved into one of the NBA's 10 best players last year, averaging 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists as the Pacers finished with the top record in the Eastern Conference before falling to LeBron James and the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals again. George almost single-handedly won Game 5 of that series to stave off elimination by shooting 15-for-28 from the field for 37 points along with six rebounds and six steals. He was clearly the best player on the court that day.
Pacers' Playoff Chances
I understand Bird's thoughts about getting George's confidence back for summer workouts and such but in my opinion there is no point in bringing him back now. Indiana entered Wednesday's game in Boston at 32-42 and No. 10 in the West, 1.5 games behind No. 8 Brooklyn. The Pacers lost a crucial game at the Nets on Tuesday night. Brooklyn clinched the season series so that's one potential tiebreaker that Indiana loses. It was also Indiana's eighth loss in 10 games so it's going the wrong direction and is dealing with nagging injuries to guards C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey. Meanwhile, the Nets have won six of their past seven. A loss in Boston on Wednesday would also give the Celtics the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indiana and the C's are also playing much better than the Pacers.
Even if the Pacers snuck in as the No. 8 seed, are they going to beat the Atlanta Hawks in a first-round series? Not a chance. Things are different with the Chicago Bulls and Rose, for example, because at full health Chicago can beat anyone in the East except maybe Cleveland. And Rose at least has played 46 games this season so there wouldn't be much rust to wipe off, as those who make NBA picks already know.
Free NBA Pick: Currently Indiana is +15000 in the NBA odds to win the East. The Pacers wouldn't beat the Cavaliers, Hawks or probably the Bulls even if George were at full strength. I don't believe that George does return this season. Indiana is better off falling into the draft lottery and re-loading next season.