Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornet Jeff Taylor becomes a sudden starter

Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor (44) is a fill-in starter while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is sidelined with an ankle sprain.
Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor (44) is a fill-in starter while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is sidelined with an ankle sprain. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

There won’t be a lot of highlights this season for Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor.

He partially did that to himself when he was arrested over a domestic violence incident in the fall. He served a 24-game suspension to start the season and has played occasionally the rest of the way.

So Saturday was a bit of an upswing: He started in place of injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He finished with nine points, two rebounds and two assists in a 115-100 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

That came after Taylor missed a key free throw late in Friday’s double-overtime loss to the Washington Wizards. Taylor looked rattled as he went to the foul line (he played only a minute of that game as a defensive substitute), but he made up for that miss with how solid he was Saturday.

“He did a good job,” coach Steve Clifford said of Taylor. “He was locked in from the beginning of the game.

“Last (season), when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist got hurt, he had some really good games. I think his concentration was up and he played really well.”

Taylor has totaled just 182 minutes this season spread over 19 games. He has made three starts. But he suddenly is an important piece as the Hornets try to get to eighth place in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the playoffs.

Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to miss a minimum of seven-10 days with that left ankle sprain. Clifford chose to start Taylor over Lance Stephenson, a high-profile free-agent signing last season whose minutes have diminished of late.

Stephenson totaled eight minutes against the Hawks, never playing during the second half. Clifford said he was starting Taylor because he brings a “defensive component” the team needs in Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence.

“I think Lance has played better with the second unit than the starters,” Clifford added.

So Taylor becomes the starter as the Hornets face the Boston Celtics on Monday, Detroit Pistons on Wednesday and Indiana Pacers on Friday.

“I felt good pregame: The walk-through, my body, everything felt good,” said Taylor, who sat for five games before that spot duty Friday.

“It’s tough, but I always try to be a good teammate. I try to stay ready and work hard at my game,” he said.

“We’re all professional players. If you’re not playing, you have to stay ready – work in the gym, work on your game.”

The Hornets clearly were cognizant of the stakes Saturday. They likely have to pass the Celtics to reach the playoffs and winning Monday would clinch a tiebreaker, via a 3-1 season series.

“They’re sitting in eighth,” Taylor said. “It’s a huge game, a home game, a game we really need.”

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

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