Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made his return after missing nearly four months with a shoulder injury.
The team’s top defender started against the Trail Blazers late Friday night in Portland. He played a surprising 33 minutes in his first game back, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds in a 109-91 loss.
“Being on the floor for the first time was really fun, but it’s not about me, it’s about the team and finding some wins,” he said. “I’m happy to be back to say the least.”
The 6-foot-7 Kidd-Gilchrist had surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Oct. 6, months after he agreed to a $55 million contract extension. He was injured in the team’s first preseason game at Orlando on Oct. 3 when he landed awkwardly on the shoulder.
Kidd-Gilchrist played in 55 games last season, averaging a career-high 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 28.9 minutes a game.
Coach Steve Clifford said that there will not be strict minute restrictions on Kidd-Gilchrist but he would watch him carefully. The Hornets trailed by as many as 20 points against the Blazers, but rallied back to single digits.
“I thought he’d be able to play 6 to 8 minutes a time,” Clifford said. “In the fourth quarter when that group got rolling, I just told him to let me know.”
Kidd-Gilchrist said he got tired in the third quarter.
“I was a little winded. I had a spurt of sprints up and down the floor so I got a little tired.”
The Hornets can use him. Charlotte has been beset by injuries this season. Nicolas Batum recently missed seven games because of a right toe sprain but returned for Wednesday night’s 102-73 loss at Utah.
The toe gave him trouble in Portland, and he finished with three points and eight assists. Batum, who spent seven seasons with the Blazers, made his first appearance in Portland since he was traded to the Hornets last summer. He was given a standing ovation by the Moda Center crowd during player introductions. He finished with three points and eight assists in his second game back after missing seven games with a right toe strain that was still bothering him.
“My toe is like three times bigger than the other one,” Batum said.
Jeremy Lin injured his right ankle, which gave him trouble earlier in the season, in the loss to the Jazz and wasn’t available for the game against the Blazers. Clifford said he had no timetable for Lin’s return.
Charlotte was also without guard Jeremy Lamb for the fourth game because of a sprained big toe on his right foot.
Damian Lillard scored 22 points and Allen Crabbe added 20 off the bench to lead the Trail Blazers.
Marvin Williams had 20 points and nine rebounds as the Hornets fell to 6-17 on the road this season. Brian Roberts added 17 points off the bench as a late rally fell short.
Lillard and McCollum combined for 18 points in the third quarter, and the Blazers outscored the Hornets 33-24 to take an 83-69 lead going into the final period.
Portland led by as many as 20 points after a back-and-forth first half.
Lillard’s dunk gave the Blazers a 21-20 lead in the first half. McCollum extended Portland’s lead with a 3-pointer and a jumper that made it 33-27.
Charlotte answered with a 9-2 run to go up 37-35, but Portland pulled back into a 50-45 lead at the half.
The Blazers pushed the lead to 69-61 in the third quarter and went into the fourth leading 83-69. Charlotte came within 100-91 late but couldn’t get any closer.
Charlotte’s Kemba Walker had 14 points but did not play the fourth quarter, leading to speculation that he was also injured. But Clifford noted that Roberts was in a groove.
“I just didn’t go back to him because Brian was playing so well,” Clifford said. “When you get a group that digs into a lead you go with it, so that’s what I did.”