Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ Roy Hibbert finally playing again on two healthy knees

Roy Hibbert (55) of the Charlotte Hornets grabs a rebound over Salah Mejri (50) of the Dallas Mavericks Thursday.
Roy Hibbert (55) of the Charlotte Hornets grabs a rebound over Salah Mejri (50) of the Dallas Mavericks Thursday. Getty Images

The Charlotte Hornets got to witness something Thursday night that has been far from a constant this season:

Roy Hibbert playing on two relatively healthy knees.

It’s been a struggle since Hibbert’s right knee swelled up between the first and second games this season. Hibbert missed five games with that injury, but the effects stretched well beyond that span.

You would occasionally see him trying to drag his bad knee through games and it affected not just how much he could play, but also how effectively. Hibbert, a 7-foot-2 rim-protector, had five blocks in the season-opener in Milwaukee. Since that game, he has totaled eight.

The most telling statistic in the Hornets’ 97-87 home victory was Charlotte’s 40 points in the paint to Dallas’ 26. At one point, that margin was 34-16.

Two of those eight came against the Dallas Mavericks Thursday and, as coach Steve Clifford reminded post-game, Hibbert affected many more of the Mavericks’ attempts. The most telling statistic in the Hornets’ 97-87 home victory was Charlotte’s 40 points in the paint to Dallas’ 26. At one point, that margin was 34-16.

Granted, the Mavericks were without their starting center; Andrew Bogut stayed in Dallas to rest, rather than fly to Charlotte for the second game of a back-to-back set.

The Mavericks are dreadful at 3-15, missing key players including longtime star Dirk Nowitzki. But any time you hold an NBA team below 40 percent from the field (37.2 percent for the Mavs), you are doing something right defensively.

As Steve Clifford has said repeatedly, when the Hornets have failed in this 11-8 start, it’s been for a lack of defense, not offense.

As Clifford has said repeatedly, when the Hornets have failed in this 11-8 start, it’s been for a lack of defense, not offense. The coach has been surprised how well his team can top 50 points in a half. But in big games against the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, the defense has fallen short in the fourth quarter.

Hibbert was signed to a one-year, $5 million contract to bring some rim protection back to Charlotte. They haven’t had anyone like Hibbert since Bismack Biyombo left in free-agency.

The difference between Hibbert and Biyombo is Hibbert is not a non-factor offensively. Thursday, he scored 11 points in 17 minutes, making five of seven shots from the field. He has a decent jump hook and is a good passer for his size. Clifford said as Hibbert gets healthier the Hornets are looking to incorporate more offense where Hibbert can hit cutters with passes in the lane.

Steve Clifford that for the Hornets to reach the NBA playoffs and have a chance to advance, Roy Hibbert “has to be right in the middle of things."

Clifford was a big believer in the Hibbert signing. He felt Hibbert still has plenty left, that circumstances with the Los Angeles Lakers worked against him last season.

I asked Thursday how important Hibbert is to this rotation. Clifford replied that for the Hornets to reach the playoffs and have a chance to advance, "He has to be right in the middle of things."

Of course he has to be in the middle – that’s what 7-footers are made for – so keeping that right knee in somewhat decent health will be a major X factor in this team’s season.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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