Charlotte Hornets

Hornets center Al Jefferson out with groin strain

Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson will miss at least the next four weeks of games after being diagnosed Tuesday with a strain of an adductor muscle in his left groin.

The Hornets announced the diagnosis about 10:30 Tuesday night, but team officials had been preparing for Jefferson to have a potentially long absence all day.

Jefferson left Monday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter after aggravating a groin strain. Jefferson did not return to the overtime loss and could not practice Tuesday.

The Hornets have a road game against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. A four-week absence would cost Jefferson at least 13 games.

The adductor muscles near the groin area help stabilize leg movement during running.

“I don’t know how long, but it’s going to be more than one or two games,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Tuesday after practice. “They’re still trying to figure it out, but this is not one or two days.”

Jefferson had an MRI on Tuesday morning to re-evaluate the extent of the injury. While the Hornets were aware that Jefferson was playing with a groin strain for several games, Clifford said Monday he was under the impression that Jefferson was not in danger of additional injury.

This is the third significant injury Jefferson has suffered in roughly 100 games with the Bobcats/Hornets. He missed 10 games early last season with a right ankle sprain, then played with a Plantar Fascia injury during the playoff loss to the Miami Heat last spring.

Even before Monday, Clifford said Jefferson was “laboring” through games. An 18 points-per-game scorer, Jefferson totaled six points in 28 minutes Monday, shooting 3-of-12 from the field.

The Hornets run their offense through Jefferson, one of the top low-post scoring threats in the NBA. In his absence they will have to rely more heavily on guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson.

“The ball-movement aspect will have to be a bigger part of it,” Clifford said. “We’ll still post up some – you have to throw it in there sometimes – but the post-up part of it won’t be as big a part of our offensive game.”

Even with Jefferson the Hornets are far from an elite offensive team. They rank 24th among 30 NBA teams in scoring (100.1 points per game) and 25th in field-goal percentage (43.1 percent).

Clifford plans to start Bismack Biyombo at center in Jefferson’s absence. The other options at center are Jason Maxiell and Cody Zeller. Zeller starts at power forward. The other options at that position are Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and rookie Noah Vonleh.

In reaction to Jefferson’s injury, the Hornets will cut short Vonleh’s assignment to the NBA Development League. Clifford said Vonleh would meet the team in Houston and be available to play against the Rockets.

Jefferson was a break-through free-agent signing in the summer of 2013. He led the then-Bobcats to a 43-29 record and an unexpected playoff appearance in the spring of 2014. He was named third-team All-NBA last June.

The Hornets are also missing shooting guard Lance Stephenson, out the past seven games with a pelvic sprain. Stephenson did some running at practice Tuesday, but isn’t close to being ready to play a game.

He’s yet to be cleared for any drills involving change-of-direction or planting off one leg.

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