Regardless of whether Paul George is coming back, the Indiana Pacers are slowly but surely seeing improved health.
And more victories.
Besides inching closer to three key players’ season debuts, the Pacers just saw one offseason acquisition return and may get another back Saturday night when they seek a fifth win in six games as the Phoenix Suns visit Indianapolis.
This matchup comes a day after George declared it’s a “goal” to play this season even though he’s not running yet following surgery on his broken leg.
“We always joke that I’ll be back before George (Hill),” the All-Star forward said.
Hill has a bruised knee that will keep him sidelined until mid-December, but David West (sprained ankle) could be back next week and C.J. Watson (bruised foot) soon after that.
There’s a chance C.J. Miles returns Saturday, listed as day to day with a migraine headache that has caused him to miss most of the past seven games. Miles, who practiced Friday, had started his first five in a Pacers uniform.
Rodney Stuckey has come off the bench in his first five for Indiana (5-7) and was back Wednesday after missing seven games with a foot injury, scoring 11 points in an 88-86 win over Charlotte.
Missing all those veterans has allowed less experienced players like Solomon Hill, Donald Sloan and Chris Copeland to see extended minutes.
“That growth that you can see from the first week of the season until now, it’s expected,” said Solomon Hill, averaging a team-high 34.0 minutes. “When guys get the opportunity to actually grow in games as opposed to just practice, definitely there’s been a payoff.”
Indiana had lost six straight before winning four of its last five, including Saturday’s road victory over Central Division leader Chicago.
The Pacers’ only game since that one was its most exciting win, beating the Hornets on Hill’s tip-in with 0.7 seconds left.
“It means the young guys are growing,” coach Frank Vogel said Friday. “We’re trying to sustain a winning culture here. That’s what this time of our season is about, with guys out like we have.”
Roy Hibbert, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday, has helped Indiana post a big rebounding edge in each of the last four wins while holding the opposition to 90 points or less. The Pacers allowed more than 90 in six of their first seven games.
The Suns (8-5) have won a season-high three straight as they wind down a six-game road trip which ends Monday in Toronto.
They’re playing for a second straight night, but the regulars might feel fresh after a 122-96 win in Philadelphia on Friday. Isaiah Thomas played a team-high 24 minutes and had 23 points to lead Phoenix, which didn’t play its starters in the fourth quarter.
“We tried to tell those guys to come out in the third quarter and really go after it so we could rest,” coach Jeff Hornacek said.
The Suns had a relatively easy time last season with an Indiana team which led the East with 56 wins. The Pacers were healthy for those two meetings but got swept as Phoenix’s Goran Dragic averaged 24.5 points.
The Suns surpassed 60 points in the first half of both games, and that was before the offseason acquisition of Thomas, who has given them a formidable point guard trio with Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
“Unique team, unique roster with three starting point guards,” Hill said. “… We know it’s gonna be a challenge with their speed, their quickness, their ability to shoot the ball at all five positions.”