INDIANAPOLIS – So eager to return, so antsy for the opportunity to push the Indiana Pacers even higher in the Eastern Conference standings and closer to their goal of the No. 1 playoff seed (leading to a championship shot), Danny Granger nonetheless was determined not to face the Miami Heat Tuesday night.
Ducking the two-time defending champions? Not at all. Leery of fixing what ain’t broke in such a pivotal game? Exactly.
Granger, the one-time All-Star forward who has played fewer games (five) than Derrick Rose since the spring of 2012, is on the brink of returning from last season’s knee bruise and surgery and this season’s left calf strain. He’s ready physically and – after what initially was projected in late October as a three-week layoff from the calf has stretched now to six – more than ready mentally.
But flaking off rust in a game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday night that could dictate postseason schedules isn’t Granger’s or anyone else’s idea of a smart return.
“I wouldn’t even go on the court right now after not having played,” Granger said. “This game is just too important. As much as I hate to miss it, I wouldn’t play in it, not having played yet this season.”
In other words, if this were Charlotte, Granger might be making his 2013-14 debut. As it is, he said it’s possible he’ll face the Bobcats here Friday instead. Different foe, different stakes.
“We’re fighting for that No. 1 seed,” Granger said. “You know how it is in the playoffs – they say the team with the home-court advantage more often than not wins. And we want that No. 1 seed, so I’m gonna be sitting right there [on the bench] cheering.”
Granger, 30, stayed long after Indiana’s shootaround Tuesday, working on his shooting in a session with Pacers assistant coach Popeye Jones. He was sweating and breathing heavily afterward, his condition and leg strength still the biggest hurdles in getting back on the court in games. His calf, he said, feels fine. So does his knee.
“What I’m doing now is a lot of individual stuff. A lot of running, a lot of game-speed moves,” he said. On days most of the other Pacers get a day off, Granger makes time to scrimmage, working his way back in a routine that probably will require a minutes limit when he does return.
The hope amongst the Pacers and their fans is that Granger’s return is all plus, no minus. Any questions about whether he comes back as a starter or off the bench seem to have been settled by the team’s dazzling 18-3 start in his absence, the lineup solidifying on the wings with Paul George as the team’s primary threat and Lance Stephenson as a reliable, sometimes irrepressible option.
If coach Frank Vogel and the players are able to fold Granger what they’ve been doing without disrupting their roll, Indiana would be adding a deep shooting threat to stretch defenses and open up the middle for Roy Hibbert‘s and David West‘s paint work, as well as George’s lanes to the rim. If Granger somehow throws off the offense by requiring the ball “X” times per game…
Actually, Granger stifled the discussion right there. He cannot imagine that happening.
“I can’t mess up anything the way our team is,” said the 6-foot-8 forward with the 18.1 career scoring average. “We don’t have that type of team where I will come in and take 20 shots in a game. That’s just not our team. Not to mention, I won’t be playing [many] minutes in the beginning.
“The advantage that I bring, basically, is I’ve been through it many years. I’ve had the lead role and scored a lot of points and what-not. Just the playoff experience and the situations we’ll be in, laying it on the line when we’re facing Miami or when we’re facing Chicago in the playoffs, whoever, that experience that I bring really is invaluable.
“I really don’t have any pressure on me at this point. Like I say, we’re playing well. I just have to play myself into shape, get minutes there and do my thing.”