20130429-135523.jpgThis is not going to happen all at once. There will be no light-bulb moment, no epiphany that changes everything.

No, when it comes to Danny Granger’s methodical, grinding, relentless comeback, it is about the little things, the small steps onward – and occasionally upward – each day.

Take the second quarter of the Pacers’ 119-80 blowout of Denver, for example. Granger intercepted an errant pass and took off on a one-man fast break, which he finished by dunking.

Off his left leg.

That’s right: the balky knee that caused the 18-month procession of injections, therapy, surgery and rehab provided the necessary lift.

“I was just on instinct for a moment,” he said, “and I was happy about it.”

One small dunk for Granger, one giant leap for Pacerkind?

If only it was that simple.

“He wasn’t doing that a month ago, or a couple of weeks ago,” Paul George said. “Plays like that, you’re happy to be able to see him do that again.”

If you look at the numbers, you do not see anything resembling normalcy from Granger: 22.8 minutes, 8.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, .356 shooting overall, .314 from the 3-point line.

That early flurry of double-figure games that came almost immediately after his return were deceptive, for they were borne of adrenaline and pent-up energy. Seven times in his first 10 games, he scored at least 10, fueling speculation he would soon replace Lance Stephenson in the starting lineup.

But then reality took over and the grind commenced. In the last 16 games, he has breached the double-digit wall four times and struggled mightily with his shot. The talk of Granger starting has ceased; in fact, there has been some buzz he should be benched in favor of Rasual Butler.

Physically, Granger is sound. But he still has one big mental hurdle to clear: trusting the knee, once and for all.

“Most of the time when a guy has an injury where they’re out for a year, the following year, they’re thinking about the knee the whole time they’re playing,” Granger said. “It’s usually the year after where they really pick it up. Ask David West when he came off his ACL. You saw the year after how he improved so much. It’s just a mental hurdle you have to get over and when it happens, it’ll happen. You can’t rush it. You just keep improving day-to-day.”

You want to believe a play like that dunk might do it, but it’s much more complicated than that. It’s going to take a bunch of moments like that, where instincts overrule thought, for Granger.

“I’ve had a few plays where that happened and it’s instinctual,” he said. “Rasual Butler will say, ‘You saw what you just did, right?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, but I wasn’t thinking about it, that’s why I did it.’ Not that it hurt or anything, it’s just you’re always cautious about it. It’s understandable. We have a mission this year and I’m going to help as much as I can.”

If you are a parent, you will understand the process. Spending every day with a child, growth and development can seem painstakingly gradual and occasionally frustrating. For friends and relatives that pop in every once in awhile, it is much more obvious.

That’s why, when Granger dunks, Frank Vogel is pleased for his player but not about to make any bold pronouncements. He knows this process is ongoing and far from complete.

“I’m not trying to overreact too much to any one play,” said the coach. “I think his lift around the basket is probably going to be the last thing that comes. His shot-making on the perimeter looks pretty good. What I like about him is his mobility – running the floor, his lateral quickness defensively – all those things seem pretty strong.

“We’ve said all along, it’s not going to be a day-to-day, week-to-week thing, it’s more of a month-to-month thing. We’ll see how he keeps progressing but I’m pleased with where he’s at.”

The pot of gold at the end of Granger’s rainbow is the postseason; that is where his personal timeline is aimed. That is when the Pacers believe their former All-Star will be a difference-maker off the bench.

The same is true of Andrew Bynum, who likewise will be brought back methodically. Having C.J. Watson, Granger, Luis Scola and Bynum in reserve could be a powerful weapon when all is on the line.

“We’re playing for a championship,” Granger said. “The fact I have the luxury to slowly get my game back and us still be the best team in the NBA … it’s a great feeling.”

A few more happy landings and you get the idea Granger just might be ready to take off, once and for all.

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