Larry Bird wants to see Paul George ‘do a little bit better’ before returning

President President Larry Bird expects to see Paul George on the court this season.

Paul George held his weekly chat with reporters Monday morning after the team’s shootaround and said he still does not have a definitive date set for a return, but he does fully intend to play this season.

“I still don’t when my return date will be,” he said, standing against a wall outside the Pacers locker room. “… When the time is ready, I’ll be back out there.”

His boss, Larry Bird, provided an update to ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo and said George has been cleared to play by team doctors.

“He’s getting a lot better,” said Bird, the team’s President of Basketball Operations. “I think he has to go through a series of tests this week, just like we’ve always been doing to see where he’s at. I think he’s cleared by the doctors to play, but obviously he’s not in shape. Just because he’s cleared to play, doesn’t mean he’s in shape to play. And I don’t want Paul to go out there until he feels comfortable with his conditioning and the way he’s practicing. I’d like to see him do a little bit better.

“It was a rough go at the beginning, which we knew it was going to be. He (isn’t) going to be Paul George, 100 percent. We know that. But I think mentally he wants to get out there, play a few games and get ready to see what he needs to do this summer to get back to 100 percent — and he will.

Bird has said all along that when a player is cleared to play he should be out there. He stood by that belief and is expecting the face of the Pacers on the court this year (only 13 games remain).

“I expect him to play this year. I hope he does for his own good — not for us to get in the playoffs or anything like that, but just for his own mental state. I think anytime you go through an injury like that, you have to get back out there and prove yourself. But he’s not going to be 100 percent.”

George acknowledged that he’s going to have rust, and that his conditioning is one of his biggest concerns.

“Although I’m not 100 percent fully, I’m close to it,” he said. “I feel playing will bring me closer to that 100 percentile.”

[See Also: Gut-check time for Pacers with 13 games left]

The team already ruled George out for tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets. Four of their next five are on the road with the lone home date coming on Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks.

About 40 minutes before Saturday’s home game, George took the floor for a workout. Watch highlights below:

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