Charlotte Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was eager to return to the basketball court after missing the first four months of the season with an injured shoulder.
Now, after playing well in a pair of weekend games, he said he’s ready for his next challenge.
Kidd-Gilchrist will likely draw the primary defensive assignment against four-time NBA MVP LeBron James when the Hornets host the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“I’m feeling fine,” Kidd-Gilchrist said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m excited. LeBron is a great player, and I’m ready for the challenge.
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“Just getting back healthy is exciting to me. I was ready for the challenge.”
Kidd-Gilchrist, who injured his right shoulder in a preseason exhibition and had surgery Oct. 6 to repair a torn labrum, saw his first action in the final two games of the Hornets’ four-game West Coast road trip.
He made an impact in both games, with 13 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes in a 109-91 loss to the Trail Blazers Friday, followed by 19 points, 12 rebounds in 27 minutes in Sunday’s 101-82 win against the Lakers.
“We talked about it over and over, and I was ready for it,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “(Coach Steve Clifford) expects the best out of me. I had been working – running, lifting, shooting, film – and I expect the best out of myself.”
Playing so many minutes goes against Clifford’s philosophy of slowly returning players back from injuries.
“I knew how hard he had worked on his conditioning,” Clifford said. “To be honest, I was surprised at how long he was able to play.
“I just thought it would take him a while to play so well, but he’s worked so hard and it’s obviously showing. He’s played two good games, and he’s got a big challenge (Wednesday).”
Jefferson cleared for drills
Hornets center Al Jefferson took the next step in his return to the lineup from knee surgery, being cleared for non-contact and conditioning drills late last week.
Jefferson was cleared during the West Coast road trip, taking part in his first drills Saturday. Tuesday, he had his first one-on-one drills and ran sprints along the sidelines.
“It feels good, man,” Jefferson said. “My lungs hurt, but it still feels good to get back on the court and get back running again and don’t feel pain when I run.”
Jefferson underwent arthroscopic surgery Dec. 31 on his right knee to repair a torn lateral meniscus. Team officials said then recovery and rehabilitation would take about six weeks, meaning Jefferson probably won’t play until after the NBA All-Star break. The Hornets’ first game after the break is Feb. 19 at Milwaukee.
“They said it depends on how I feel,” Jefferson said. “If I had my way, I’d like to get at least one game, maybe two games, in before the break. But it really depends on how the running goes this week and how good I feel.”
▪ Forward-center Cody Zeller was cleared for non-contact drills after missing the past six games with a strained right shoulder. Zeller had been filling in for Jefferson, averaging 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds in 25 starts. He has been sidelined since injuring the shoulder in a loss at Oklahoma City on Jan. 20.
▪ Guard Jeremy Lamb (right great toe strain) participated in his first contact drills Tuesday, but he’s listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game.
▪ Point guard Kemba Walker sat out Tuesday’s practice for treatment on his sore left knee, which began hurting Sunday against the Lakers. He’s questionable for Wednesday’s game.
▪ Guard Nicholas Batum, who has missed four of the past six games with a right second toe strain, is doubtful for Wednesday. He sat out most of Tuesday’s practice, only participating in shooting drills.