INDIANAPOLIS (AFP) - Indiana Pacers star Paul George underwent his first full practice session on Thursday since breaking his right leg last August, and said he hopes to return for National Basketball Association (NBA) games next month.
The 24-year-old small forward suffered the injury on Aug 1 last year during a practice match by the United States team that would go on to win last year's Basketball World Cup, a gruesome open tibia-fibula fracture in the fourth quarter.
Most expected that George would miss the entire 2014/15 NBA campaign but he vowed to return for at least a portion of the season and took a major step toward that goal on Thursday.
"It felt really good," George said. "I'm still hoping for March. That's the date I wish to return. I still have some steps to overcome, some hurdles. But that's a goal of mine."
That would be good news for the Pacers, who without George are fighting to avoid missing the play-offs for the first time since 2010 after reaching the Eastern Conference finals the past two seasons.
"He has just been doing a little more and more," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "(There is) no timetable for his return. He's got a long way to go before he gets cleared to play. I'm hopeful. But a lot has to happen before then."
With a 23-34 win-loss record, the Pacers are level with the Detroit Pistons for last in the Central Division, but only one game behind Charlotte and Brooklyn in a fight for the last Eastern Conference play-off spot that has five clubs within one game.
George, named the NBA's Most Improved Player in 2013, averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the Pacers last season, when they lost to the Miami Heat in six games. In 2013 they pushed the eventual NBA champion Heat to seven games before falling in the East final.
George has been careful in his rehabilitation regimen to avoid pushing too hard too soon.
"I don't put myself in a position where I'm uncomfortable. It's just seeing how much I can take and going from there," he said. "I'm not worried about the bone breaking again. I'm just trying to come out here and give my all and just trust my leg."