By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger says he's nearly ready to return from a foot injury and help his team challenge for a playoff berth.
The All-Star has missed the past nine games with a torn tendon in his right foot. He was sitting out Tuesday's game against Utah, but he expects to return within a week, either Friday at Atlanta or at Toronto on Sunday.
"We were hoping for today, but that's out of the question," Granger said after the team's shootaround Tuesday morning. "By Friday, I think I should be OK. If not Friday, then definitely Sunday."
Granger averages a team-best 25 points a game, but the Pacers have rallied for a 6-3 record in his absence. Indiana also has been without guard Mike Dunleavy for most of this season with a knee injury after he averaged 19 points a game last year.
Despite those aches and pains, the Pacers trail Milwaukee by 1 1/2 games for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
"It's pretty tough, but we're playing well, so that's great," he said. "We really didn't lose any ground, and actually, we're gaining ground."
Granger did some light shooting on Tuesday, but he hasn't practiced since injuring the foot Feb. 18 against Charlotte. Granger said the Pacers have been cautious with the injury because of the pain level and the potential to reinjure the foot.
Granger said the foot injury likely came from overcompensating for soreness in the right knee that had been bothering him since before the All-Star break. He played limited minutes in the All-Star game to protect himself from risking further damage, but eventually ended up hurting it anyway.
"With the knee injury, I was pushing differently on the way I would push off and jump," he said. "I'm sure that something to do with it."
Dunleavy had surgery last week to remove a bone spur and repair a torn tendon in his right knee. He missed the first 34 games this season, then returned for 18 games, but wasn't as accurate as a year earlier.
Indiana Pacers coach Jim O'Brien commended the remaining players for rallying after the injuries.
"We have a very tough-minded group that never feels that they're out of a basketball game," he said. "They're a scrappy bunch of guys. They compete."
O'Brien said Troy Murphy, Jarrett Jack, T.J. Ford and Marquis Daniels have played exceptionally well since Granger's injury.
"They know that the only way to win a basketball game is to worry about the guys that are going to get playing time that night, and that they have to execute a plan, and out guys for the most part have been doing that. It's a good sign."
Murphy has improved greatly. He has averaged 21.3 points and 16.2 rebounds in nine games without Granger.
"Troy Murphy's been shooting it unbelievably," Granger said. "Every time he shoots, I think he's going to make it."
That's what team president Larry Bird said about Granger before he injured his knee. It's the first time in Granger's pro career that he's needed to worry about a significant injury.
"I think in the NBA season, or in your career, there's going to be times where you get injured," Granger said. "I've played pretty much 3 1/2 years injury free. It happens. You put so many minutes on your body, something's going to break down."
Granger felt he could still help the team, so he played with the bad knee. The foot injury was too much to overcome.
"It's tough to deal with," he said. "I kept playing. I struggled with my shot a little bit. I think this layoff may have helped me because my knee is finally getting better, and once my foot gets better, I should be ready to go."
He likes the fact that he has something more than individual accolades to play for. The Pacers have missed the playoffs the past two years, but see a chance at changing that.
"It's right there to take," he said.