By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers guard Mike Dunleavy says he could return from a severe knee injury earlier than expected.
Dunleavy says he can do everything except have physical contact, and he expects that to change within weeks. Pacers coach Jim O'Brien has said he didn't expect Dunleavy to be available until at least January 2010.
He had surgery in March to remove a bone spur from the patella tendon on his right knee.
But Dunleavy is back on the court running. Though there is work ahead, he says he's "at a good place right now."
"If it goes pretty well, yeah, I could be back pretty early in the season," Dunleavy said. "There's still a lot of time for that to happen."
His teammates say they like what they've seen.
"I've been in and out of Indianapolis, and I've seen Mike from time to time, and he's doing great," Pacers forward Danny Granger said. "They're saying he's ahead of schedule, that he's ahead of where we thought he was going to be at, which is great for us because we're really going to need him this year."
Dunleavy finished sixth in the most improved player award voting two seasons ago after averaging 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
The wing combination of Dunleavy and Granger was expected to carry the Pacers last season. Instead, while Granger emerged as an All-Star, Dunleavy missed the first 34 games with lingering pain in the knee. He returned and averaged 15.1 points in 18 games before shutting down and opting for surgery because the pain continued to increase.
In June, he had an unrelated minor surgery on his left hip.
Dunleavy said he's healing well from both surgeries. He said he can do most of his normal work, but can't take contact.
"Right now, I'm not playing and doing any live basketball," he said. "I'm not playing against guys, I'm not playing up and down, but I'm getting close to that."
He may need to return quickly if he wants to regain his starting job. His replacement, Brandon Rush, scored 29 points in back-to-back games in late March against Washington and Chicago last season. The Pacers added free agent Dahntay Jones, a starter in Denver, as insurance.
Pacers forward Troy Murphy is excited about Dunleavy's progress.
"I've seen him," he said. "He looks great. I think he's going to have a big comeback year and he's going to do really well."