Charlotte Hornets

Hornets: Injured center Cody Zeller won’t play significant role when season tips off

Steve Clifford on Cody Zeller

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford discusses Cody Zeller's recovery from a bone bruise on his right knee on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.
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Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford discusses Cody Zeller's recovery from a bone bruise on his right knee on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.

Charlotte Hornets power forward Marvin Williams has a broken finger, and that wasn’t the worst injury news for the Hornets Wednesday.

Center Cody Zeller continues to be held out of contact drills because of a deep bone bruise in his right knee. Coach Steve Clifford acknowledged Zeller has missed so much of the preseason that it’s unrealistic to ask him to play a significant role from the start of the regular season Oct. 26.

"Bottom line is he’s not going to be ready. He hasn’t done enough," Clifford said of Zeller.

"You couldn’t, with any realistic expectation, think that he could possibly play much, if at all. He’s had no preseason, so there’s no way he could be ready to play."

Zeller has missed all five exhibitions and isn’t likely to be cleared to play in the last two, Thursday night in Charlotte against the Miami Heat or Friday in Minneapolis against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Zeller was cleared for contact in two practices last week, but has been held out of scrimmages since then.

This injury occurred in the playoff series against the Heat last spring. Zeller had to drop off the USA Select team in July that scrimmaged against Team USA.

"It’s literally day-to-day. How’s he feel? Is there swelling?" Clifford said of Zeller.

The Hornets have decent depth at center to compensate for Zeller’s absence. Roy Hibbert, signed over the summer, should start opening night, backed up by veteran Spencer Hawes.

"Cody’s injury is an issue. But we’re lucky we have all the guys we have," Clifford said.

Williams sat out the second half of Monday’s exhibition against the Chicago Bulls. The initial diagnosis was a sprain, but the team announced Wednesday Williams suffered a non-displaced fracture.

Williams will miss the remaining two exhibitions. But he said Wednesday he doesn’t anticipate missing any regular-season games becaused of this injury.

"I saw a specialist and I’ll see him again Tuesday" before the opener (Wednesday at Milwaukee), Williams said. "I’ve played with far worse than that."

Williams said he doesn’t remember a particular play causing the injury in Chicago. At halftime he felt pain and thought he’d broken a finger nail.

Tuesday he was fitted with a brace on the finger, allowing him to catch a basketball without particular discomfort.

The Hornets have had a variety of injuries to core players this preseason. Point guard Kemba Walker initially sat out contact drills, following off-season knee surgery. The Hornets are also incorporating new players, including Hibbert and shooting guard-small forward Marco Bellinelli.

"You can see the improvement," Williams said of winning the past two exhibitions. "Guys are feeling more comfortable at both ends with each other."

Clifford said a week of heavy practice, with no exhibitions, made a difference.

"The first couple of weeks were uneven. The last 10 days have been really good," Clifford said.

"I think the offense is getting better. We’re driving the ball well – we had 41 free throws (in Chicago). We’re not shooting the ball well, but in efficiency we were still nearly a point per possession. For the preseason, that’s pretty good."

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