MIAMI – Udonis Haslem slowly unfastened the mammoth gray boot he'll wear for the next few weeks, gingerly lifted his foot from the brace and flexed his toes a tiny bit.
"Progress," the Miami Heat forward said.
It may not sound like much, but those actions represent potentially big news for the Heat.
The Heat co-captain said Tuesday that his recovery from surgery to repair a ruptured ligament in his left foot is going as planned, and that a return by "late March" is still the target. The team hasn't set a definitive timetable for Haslem's return, although there was fear when he got hurt Nov. 20 that his season was over.
"I don't have much pain, but I'm still not 100 percent weight-bearing," Haslem said. "So it's tough to tell."
Haslem appeared in the Heat locker room before Tuesday's game against Milwaukee without crutches — another step in the recovery. Haslem got out of his cast Monday, was then fitted for the walking boot, and doctors advised him to use the crutches for a few more days just to remain comfortable.
Haslem didn't exactly listen.
"As soon as I left the doctor's office, the crutches were gone," he said.
He'll be back at the doctor in two weeks, hopes to travel with the Heat when they depart later this week for a five-game, 10-day road trip — that decision will likely be made by Heat trainer Jay Sabol — and could start rehabbing later this month once the remaining surgical scars heal.
Doctors have advised him to stay in the walking boot for six weeks.
"I'll give it an even four," Haslem said.
Haslem, the team's best rebounder and a locker-room leader, was injured in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, falling on a play where he collided with Zach Randolph and needed to be carried into the locker room for treatment. Miami has rallied in his absence, entering Tuesday's game against Milwaukee at 27-9 overall and 19-4 since Haslem got hurt.
That has made the recovery process easier for one of two remaining players from Miami's 2006 NBA championship team.
"It's not in me to not be proud of what these guys have accomplished," Haslem said. "Especially after what we went through early. The poise those guys are playing with, it would have been easy to split apart and go the other way. It's been the opposite of what everyone expected them to do."