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Pacers' Dunleavy ready to return

Sunday, January 4, 2009

By CLIFF BRUNT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Mike Dunleavy isn't used to being a spectator, and it looks like he won't be one for much longer.

The Indiana Pacers guard is expected back within a week or so after missing all 33 games so far this season with soreness in his right knee.

"Obviously, it's been a long few months," Dunleavy told The Associated Press. "I'm on the mend, and I should be back soon. I'm looking forward to it."

He sat out just 11 games in his first six NBA seasons.

"I've been fortunate my entire career never to have had any injuries," said Dunleavy, who averaged a career-best 19.1 points per game last season. "This is new to me. I've just tried to roll with it, just get better each day."

The Pacers start a five-game road trip Monday at Denver. Dunleavy hopes to be in the lineup before the Pacers return to Conseco Fieldhouse to play Detroit on Jan. 14.

"We don't have any concrete dates in mind," he said. "It's a day-by-day thing, see how I feel."

His teammates can't wait to see him back on the court. Fourth-year forward Danny Granger is carrying the scoring load, averaging a career-best 25.1 points per game.

"When you have two 20-point scorers, it makes the offense a lot better," Granger said. "It makes us harder to guard on offense, which in turn might make them (opponents) more tired on offense. It'll help both ends of the court when he comes back."

Dunleavy does more than score -- he also averaged 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season.

"He's just so valuable to us as a ballhandler, facilitator, shooter," Pacers forward Troy Murphy said. "There's really no one thing that you can say we're missing, but we miss his overall game. The way he's able to run the pick-and-roll, the way he's able to get guys shots, there's really no guy in the league at his size that can do that."

Dunleavy expected to be ready to play when the season started.

"Sometimes, you just don't know the way things react," he said. "You think something originally is going to be a week or two. Sometimes, it's a lot longer. These things have a mind of their own. It's not as cut or dried as a tear or a break."

Dunleavy said he would have been able to play Saturday against Sacramento if it were a Game 7 in the playoffs or a similarly important situation.

"I think really all season long, I could have gutted it out and played one game, but not more than that," he said. "This has been the best thing for me in terms of getting right for now and for the future."

Dunleavy wants to pick up from last season, in which he was sixth in the balloting for the league's most improved player award.

"I wanted to take the momentum from last season into this season," he said. "That's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. You've got to deal with things like that."

While Dunleavy has been out, Granger has emerged as a force.

"He's been great," Dunleavy said. "He's a tough cover for teams each and every night, he's terrific on both ends of the court. He's been a great player for us. I'm just hoping to get back and help him and the other guys get back in the right direction in terms of wins and losses."

Marquis Daniels has also emerged in Dunleavy's absence. The sixth-year player is averaging 15.7 points per game and is having by far the best year of his career.

The most difficult thing for Dunleavy has been watching the losses pile up. The Pacers were 12-21 after Saturday. But Indiana leads the league in games decided by three points or less, and the Pacers have wins over Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I think everybody knows we're much better than our record indicates," he said. "The games are 48 minutes long, they're not 45. That's part of the deal. We take the confidence from it that we can play with any team in the league. We've just got to do a better job of finishing games."



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