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Charlotte Bobcats guard Kemba Walker running, might practice Thursday

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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

DENVER The biggest story at Charlotte Bobcats practice Tuesday was about a guy who won’t play against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.

The way point guard Kemba Walker was moving around the Nuggets’ practice court, though, it shouldn’t be long. Quite possibly he’ll play on this four-game West Coast trip, perhaps even before the finale against the Golden State Warriors.

Walker sprained his left ankle Jan. 18 against the Miami Heat. The injury was severe enough that he had to be carried off the court, but a diagnosis the next day put his recovery time at about two weeks.

Tuesday he was running without any noticeable limp, and that seemed like a bit of a breakthrough.

“This is the period when he’s making the most progress. So we’ll see,” coach Steve Clifford said. “Hopefully he’ll be able to do a little more tomorrow and maybe practice Thursday” in Los Angeles.

That means it’s conceivable Walker could play as soon as Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, though Saturday against the Phoenix Suns or Tuesday against the Warriors seems more realistic.

Walker told the Observer he’s been running since Sunday, at first on the anti-gravity treadmill that reduces stress on the legs. He shot extensively at the end of practice Tuesday and has begun to try side-to-side movement, normally the hardest thing after an ankle sprain.

“I’m trying to do as much as I can on it without killing myself. I felt pretty good,” Walker said. “I’ve been doing really well in rehab, working a lot.

“The best thing is I haven’t been favoring it as much. I’m feeling better.”

This is the first at any level – high school, college or the NBA – that an injury has kept Walker out of games. He’s missed the past four, but he aspires to play before the Bobcats come home to play the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 8.

“I want to get out there. I’m pretty sure at one point I just have to go out and play on it,” Walker said. “With the type of sprain it is, it’s going to hurt regardless. I’m trying to limit the pain at this point, but hopefully I can practice Thursday.”

Is it painful in what he’s been doing?

“At times,” he said. “I haven’t done too much. But nothing I can’t overcome.”

Playoff chase: Clifford said it would be an important step in the Bobcats’ development if they continue to contend for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

“Playing in a playoff series is a great learning experience, but chasing one, too,” Clifford said. “For us to make it, it’s going to be an 82-game grind – every game is important.

“It’s good for (the players) because they’re playing in all meaningful games. And as a coaching staff, you’re going to see who can handle that.”

Reaching the playoffs, rather than just chasing a spot, would be an extra level of value.

“There, everything is tested,” Clifford said. “You’re going to play the same team for as much as 21/2 weeks. So the discipline of the game goes up, the matchup part of the game goes up, the execution is at an all-time high. You need everybody’s best and you can’t replace that experience.”

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell
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