Rodney Stuckey feels back to normal, hopes hamstring injuries are behind him

This is all new to Rodney Stuckey. For the first time in his career he is dealing with hamstring injuries. First it was his right; currently it’s his left.

In all, it has cost him almost 64 percent of the Pacers’ season thus far, appearing in just 17 games.

Stuckey aims to return to the lineup Wednesday, Feb. 1 in Orlando. [Frank McGrath]

The 30-year-old guard, one of the first guys off the bench, has been ramping up his workload over the past two weeks. He understands that it’s going to take time for him to get back in shape and feel comfortable back on the floor, yet he’s mostly eager to be out there with his teammates once again.

Injury or not, Stuckey is usually one of the last players off the practice floor. He has stayed behind after morning shootaround to go one-on-one against rookie Georges Niang. And spent time with strength and conditioning coaches Shawn Windle and Andy Martin to build his conditioning back up, and to test out his hamstring “any way possible.”

On Tuesday, speaking with reporters after being a full participant in practice, Stuckey says he is progressing to the point where he hopes to suit up and play Wednesday in Orlando.

“Man, that’s the goal,” he said, with hope glaring from his face. “I’ve been working hard throughout this process just to get myself back — working with the training staff and whatnot. A lot of rehabbing. It’s a process. Mentally, it’s been tough, man.

“I feel good, I feel back to normal, and hopefully I can give it a go (Wednesday).”

Hamstrings injuries are tricky because a timeline to return varies. Pacers head coach Nate McMillan, who played a dozen years in the NBA, dealt with it himself several decades ago.

“They take at least a month,” McMillan said, speaking from personal experience. “When you pull those hamstrings. It’s an injury that takes a while to recover from and you really have to be careful about returning, and how you return. I think what we’ve tried to do is really allow it to heal as much as possible so that he’ll feel comfortable, and it’s not something that he’s coming back and feeling it (again).”

That’s where the Pacers’ medical staff plays a huge role. Last year, Stuckey spent weeks on the bench because of a right foot injury. And, as he shared last February, he’s thankful that the well respected staff caught his injury early which prevented surgery — and that they held him out.

While it is a different injury, his feelings remain the same one year later.

“Since Day 1, I knew that once I did it, I knew it was going to be a process,” Stuckey said. “The training staff did a good job of just holding me back, just saying, ‘Nah. You need more time.’ That was a process right there. They kept me out a while just to make sure I was back where I needed to be.”

As of Tuesday, Stuckey had not yet been cleared by the training staff to play on Wednesday. However, after closely monitoring him and daily evaluations that include looking at an ultrasound, that formality is expected. He is a game-time decision.

When Stuckey does return, expect for him to be on a minutes restriction. That helps ease players back into play and prevents them from overdoing it.

“When the trainers give me the ‘OK’ that he’s ready to play, I’m sure we’ll discuss a (minutes) restriction,” coach McMillan added on Tuesday.

In mid-December, Stuckey missed five games because of a right hamstring strain and then tried to return against Chicago — on the day after Christmas — and the left hamstring acted up within six minutes. Since Dec. 26, Stuckey has been sidelined for the last 15 games.

Officially, he has missed 10 games for a right hamstring strain, and now 20 games for a sore left hamstring. (No other Pacer has missed more than eight games this season.) The Pacers are 25-22 this season and winners of three in a row. Without Stuckey in the lineup, the Pacers are 17-13.

Stuckey is in the second year of a three-year deal he signed with Indiana in 2015. He holds a player option for next season worth $7 million.

“I’ve never had hamstring injuries in my career,” Stuckey said. “This is the first time this year. It’s definitely been frustrating. Hopefully this is the last time this happens.”

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