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Dunleavy Return Just What Doctor Ordered

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive

March 29, 2011

( Getty Images)

Hidden in the glow of the Pacers' stirring 107-100 victory over Boston Monday night was the sight of Mike Dunleavy on the bench.

Not behind it, wearing a suit. On it, wearing a uniform.

Dunleavy is back, earlier than expected, in time to help the Pacers make their final playoff push.

Cleared to play, his broken left thumb healed in five weeks -- a week ahead of the original best-case projection of six-to-eight weeks -- Dunleavy will practice today and likely play Wednesday when the Pacers host Detroit.

"I'm excited," Dunleavy said. "I'm ready to do whatever they want me to do. I can't wait. Hopefully, we can do big things."

Interim coach Frank Vogel wants to see how Dunleavy looks in practice before determining his immediate game-night role. Because he was able to maintain his cardiovascular conditioning while recovering from surgery, Dunleavy may not need much time to spool up his game.

"I don't think his conditioning is going to be that much of a factor," Vogel said. "Obviously, game conditioning is different than drill work conditioning so there will be some element of that. I'm more concerned with his timing and playing through contact and all that stuff.

"(His role) is going to be based on how effective he is early and how long it takes him to get back to being himself. If he looks great right away then we'll see, we'll consider starting him again, we'll consider bringing him off the bench. I'm really not sure. I'm taking it day by day."

Dunleavy brings back averages of 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and .407 shooting from the 3-point line. The numbers don't overwhelm until you check what was produced in his absence.

Brandon Rush started the first eight games Dunleavy missed, Paul George the last 12. Those two combined to average 6.8 points on 41.8 percent shooting in the last 20 games.

With the Pacers (33-42) clinging to a one-game lead over Charlotte (31-42) in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Dunleavy's return is an important boost, particularly so because he has come back in time to regain his rhythm before the postseason begins.

"Any time you can bring in a guy that can shoot at this point, because later in the year, the defenses all know your offense and any time you get another guy that can stretch the floor -- and he can do more than that, obviously -- it's really important for them," said Boston coach Doc Rivers. "It's big. They're trying to make the playoffs and every healthy body, every healthy skilled body that they can get, they need."

Having watched the Pacers struggle to an 8-12 record in his absence, Dunleavy could play a key role in helping get the offense avoid its tendency toward stagnation. His ability to move without the ball, his instinct for making the right pass at the right time and his long-range shooting could prove invaluable.

Asked what he hoped to provide, Dunleavy said, "Just the same old stuff I normally do, play the game the right way, help these young guys out.

"I always know where I'm supposed to be on offense and defense and hopefully I can set a good example and bring some energy to the lineup."

Everything he does, the Pacers need. Dunleavy's return could be just what the doctor ordered. So to speak.