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Brand picks up pace

Times Staff Writer

Injured Clippers forward Elton Brand on Monday inched closer to his return to the court by participating in non-contact drills and afterward said he definitely plans on playing this season.

“That’s what it looks like to me,” said Brand, who has sat out the season while recovering from a ruptured left Achilles tendon.

Brand stretched with the team and went through 5-on-0 drills. He is dunking and said he can leap as high as he could before he sustained the injury last August.

“Physically, I feel great,” Brand said. “I’m jumping as high as I did before, especially off of two feet.”

His next step is to go through full-contact practices. Brand and the Clippers medical staff hope that will occur in about two weeks.

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“He did some stuff,” Coach Mike Dunleavy said. “He didn’t do everything, but it was a step. It was a good step. He looked good, but he looked like a guy who’s been out for a long time.”

Brand will resume traveling with the team on its five-game mid-March trip, their longest remaining road swing. Still, he and the training staff said it was too soon to pin down a specific return date.

“I don’t want to get caught up into a game-by-game type of drill,” said trainer Jasen Powell. “It all depends on how he progresses with his explosion work, but he is doing that pretty steadily.”

Powell said that when Brand does return, he will probably initially be restricted to 15 to 20 minutes a game.

“As long as we don’t have any glitches in how he feels,” Powell said. “His conditioning is starting to be where he needs it to be, but we want him to get some contact, get bumped a little bit and see how he feels on that.”

Point guard Sam Cassell says the team looks forward to Brand’s return, but with the schedule starting to run thin on games, it is a risk to return from such a serious injury to a team in the bottom of the standings.

“I think he may need [to play] for his mind-set,” Cassell said. “It’s a tough decision. We are out of playoff contention. I wouldn’t take the risk.”

Brand has one additional examination remaining with Dr. Craig Morgan in Delaware and a checkup with team physician Tony Daly.

“We aren’t going to rush it,” Brand said. Still, the anticipation of getting on the court again is making it tough to hold back.

“I tried to sneak in some more stuff, but [Powell] kept catching me,” Brand said.

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No players -- other than Brand and injured point guard Shaun Livingston -- sat out practice Monday, the team’s first in four days.

“We had a healthy group,” Dunleavy said. “Everybody played the right amount of minutes.”

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com


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