Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornet Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has big challenge in second game back

Two games back from a two-week bereavement leave, Charlotte Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will guard one of the NBA’s most dangerous scorers Friday, in James Harden.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said following morning shootaround at Spectrum Center that Kidd-Gilchrist will start the game covering Harden, the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer at 26.4 points per game.

Kidd-Gilchrist was away from the team for 12 days, following the death of his grandmother in New Jersey. He was on a minutes-limit – about seven minutes per half – in his first game back Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets.

Clifford said Kidd-Gilchrist will likely play about 10 minutes per half in Friday’s matchup. Most, if not all, of those minutes figure to be guarding Harden, a crafty, left-handed scorer, both as a long-range shooter and a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

Harden is third in the NBA in assists per game at 9.6. The Rockets will be without former Wake Forest star Chris Paul Friday, due to a left knee injury.

In other news from Friday-morning shootaround:

▪ Clifford said small forward Treveon Graham (right quad contusion) will be a game-time decision on whether he plays versus the Rockets. Graham was kicked in the quad during the road loss in Milwaukee, then again in Wednesday’s game. Graham participated in shootaround, but the Hornets want to make sure he isn’t at serious risk for re-injury by playing Friday.

▪ Center Cody Zeller (right knee bruise) participated in shootaround Friday, but won’t play versus the Rockets. Clifford said it’s a possibility Zeller will be well enough to play Sunday versus the Orlando Magic. The Hornets have a busy span right now, with three games in four nights (including Monday at the Memphis Grizzlies).

▪ Hornets center Dwight Howard looks forward to playing tonight against former teammate Clint Capela, who is having a strong season (15.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game). Howard said a big man can play so free and at ease, with all the attention a superstar such as Harden draws from an opposing defense.

"He’s going to get a chance to get a lot of easy buckets, because the focus is always on James and those perimeter scorers," Howard said of Capela. "Got to make sure you keep him off the glass, make him take tough shots in the paint."

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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