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Despite His Aching Back, George Feeling Rejuvenated

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

March 2, 2014

Paul George knew he was going to pay for that third-quarter dunk attempt in the morning. The lower back, already stiffening up after the Pacers' 94-91 victory over Utah on Sunday, was bound to be clutching at him up when he slid out of bed.

Still, he could sit in front of his locker and say, “I feel good” without a trace of irony.

He meant in the long term, at least as it applies to that period between the All-Star break and the end of the season. George feels rejuvenated, even when he feels the fatigue of a back-to-back, and his play shows it.

If you remember George in the 10 games leading up to the All-Star break, you recall a player running on fumes. He averaged 17.5 points on 32.5 percent shooting in those games, and 3.2 turnovers. He was forcing things, and more often than not, failing to convert.

In the seven games since the break he's averaged 25.4 points on 45 percent shooting, and 2 turnovers. And half of his 14 came in one game, at Minnesota. It's basically what he declared he would do following that embarrassing homecourt loss to Dallas before the break.

Sunday was one of his lesser post-break performances, but the kind of off night a team wants its star player to have. He finished with 22 points on 6-of-16 shooting, hit 9-of-10 foul shots, grabbed six rebounds, passed out four assists, and had a couple of steals and just one turnover in his 40 minutes and 20 seconds.

The All-Star break rejuvenated George, and not just because of the time off it afforded. The company he was keeping in New Orleans made a difference, too.

“I just had a second look on things,” he said. “When you see a lot of great guys in a group, you kind of learn how to play up to that level. You don't want to lose that level. Looking back and watching those guys, that's the class I want to be part of.

“We're a special team here and I want to be a special player and play at a special level.”

George talked with Kobe Bryant over the break, his first shot at a meaningful conversation with his boyhood idol. Bryant's advice?

“'Keep going,'” George said. “He said it over and over. 'Keep going.'

“What I take out of that is gear it up to another level and to keep attacking.”

Attacking the rim, for example. The best measure of George's aggressiveness in a game is the number of trips he makes to the foul line. In the eight games before the break, he averaged 3.5 foul shots per game. In the seven games since, he's averaged seven.

He expects to continue that approach, particularly after the pain in his lower back goes away. And that was partially self-inflicted, the result of his attempt to dunk on Jeremy Evans from too far away. Evans' foul landed George squarely on his back. Vogel had to call a 20-second timeout to allow him time to recover.

“I feel like my body is great and my legs are feeling fine,” he said. “We're closing to the end of the year and that's when I want to play my greatest basketball. I'm feeling good. I feel like I'm ready going forward.”

Whether Bryant mentioned it or not, George also is cutting back on distractions to sharpen his focus. That was another pre-break promise he had made. He's been on Jimmy Kimmel's television show, he's featured in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine and he's becoming a worldwide sports figure. All that attention brings more people with their hand out, wanting favors, or wanting more of his time.

George said he's ignoring text messages and phone calls, going to bed earlier, and trying to isolate himself from the world. More and more, he wants to be alone.

“It's cool,” he said of his notoriety. “But I have to be smart about it. I can't talk to everybody.”

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