LeVert Returns to Practice

Oct. 26, 2021 - Caris LeVert, Rick Carlisle, and Goga Bitadze discuss LeVert returning to practice and what he brings to this team.

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LeVert Returns to Practice

Oct. 26, 2021 - Caris LeVert, Rick Carlisle, and Goga Bitadze discuss LeVert returning to practice and what he brings to this team.
Oct 26, 2021  |  01:40

LeVert Practices, Nearing Return

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor

Reinforcements are on the way for the Pacers.

The Blue & Gold have played well at times in their first four games, but are sitting at 1-3 thanks to a pair of one-point losses and another defeat on Monday against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

But one of Indiana's top players appears set to make his season debut in the near future. Caris LeVert practiced with the team for the first time on Tuesday morning at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.

"It felt good to get back out there with my teammates," LeVert told the media. "It's been a while since I've gone up and down. I felt good. I'm excited."

LeVert sat out training camp due to soreness in his lower back, but has slowly been ramping up basketball activities. He had been shooting virtually all of the preseason, but has participated in simulated game workouts over the past few days.

Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said last week that LeVert would miss the first four games and then be reevaluated. Sure enough, the day after the fourth game, he was cleared to participate in practice.

When the media entered practice, LeVert took part in a three-on-three game along with Torrey Craig, Isaiah Jackson, Brad Wanamaker, and two video assistants. He looked very much like the player that starred for the Pacers in the second half of last season, averaging 20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists over 35 games.

"I don't know when he's going to play in games," Carlisle said. "But today, for where we've been for the last month, is very good news."

The Pacers left Tuesday afternoon for a two-game road trip that includes games in Toronto on Wednesday and Brooklyn on Friday. They return to Indianapolis and open up a three-game homestand on Saturday night against the Raptors.

When asked if he was planning on playing this week, LeVert demurred, but did not rule out the possibility.

"I wouldn't say that," LeVert said. "I'm planning to play soon. We haven't put a date on it yet. Like I said, I feel good, my body feels good. I'm just getting into game shape right now."

Caris LeVert, Brad Wanamaker

Photo Credit: Zach Hughes - Pacers.com

The focus will now be on LeVert's conditioning level and how his body responds to full-contact practice. LeVert, Carlisle, and the training staff will have an open dialogue on those subjects before determining a set date for his return.

"He appears to me to be a guy that's going to get in shape pretty quick, but NBA shape is not just like walking off the street playing in a pickup game, you know," Carlisle said Tuesday. "But in terms of when, I don't know. Hopefully soon. Hopefully soon, but it's got to be right."

The back injury has been the latest in a series of challenges for LeVert, though it pales in comparison to what he went through earlier this year, when a post-trade physical revealed a cancerous mass on his left kidney. Even then, LeVert underwent surgery to remove the mass and was back on the court making his Pacers debut less than two months later.

While playing last season, LeVert often spoke of his love for the game and the joy he experiences being on the court. That has continued to be evident as he rehabbed his back. Carlisle described him as "very anxious" to be back playing and his teammates echoed that sentiment.

"When he was not even working out, he was out here watching plays and just watching us practice," third-year Pacers center Goga Bitadze said. "You could tell he really wanted to be out there. He can't wait to be out on the floor."

During the first four games, LeVert has been an active presence on the Pacers' bench, often talking to his teammates, especially rookie guard Chris Duarte, who has been starting at shooting guard in LeVert's absence.

"I've been around for a while now, so I've seen a lot of things and players," LeVert said. "I'm just giving advice, giving confidence where it's needed, and just trying to help as much as it can."

With LeVert in his ear, Duarte has gotten off to a fantastic start to his professional career. The 24-year-old has averaged 19.8 points and shot 44.8 percent from 3-point range over his first four games.

Duarte has played so well that it has sparked speculation whether he might stay in the starting lineup even after LeVert returns. A three-guard backcourt of Duarte, LeVert, and Malcolm Brogdon certainly would not be lacking in firepower.

"Chris is one of those guys who good things seem to happen when he has the ball in his hands," LeVert said about the possibility. "So it's easy to play with guys like that."

LeVert's imminent return figures to offer a major boost to all of his teammates, Duarte included. The Pacers' schedule to open the season is tough, with a four-game Western Conference road trip looming next week, and LeVert would help in a number of areas as the Pacers face a number of strong teams.

"The guy's one of our top players," Carlisle said. "He's a great athlete, he's an NBA scorer. He's also a playmaker. And defensively, I think he's going to help us as well. The sooner the better, but it's got to be at the right time."

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