Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson’s season might be over.
Jefferson sat out the second half of a 93-74 loss to the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He has been so troubled of late by a sore right knee that he has had fluid drained from the joint three times in 10 days.
Coach Steve Clifford said it’s “definitely” possible Jefferson will be shut down for the Hornets’ remaining seven games as the team’s playoff chances dwindle.
“He’s dragging his leg around and then you compensate,” opening yourself up to further injury, Clifford said.
“The guy literally couldn’t pivot and turn. I don’t know if he’ll play again. It’s just not fair to him.”
That would mean Jefferson’s season would end with injury for the second time in his two seasons with the franchise. During the playoffs last season Jefferson severely injured a plantar fascia. The then-Bobcats eventually shut him down in a 4-0 sweep by the Miami Heat.
Jefferson left the locker room Friday before media entered. Prior to the game, when asked about the need to keep draining his right knee, Jefferson said, “Just part of the game.”
Jefferson is the focal point of an offense that struggled greatly Friday. After taking a 25-22 lead into the second quarter, the Hornets totaled just 22 points in the second and third quarters, trailing by as many as 28 points to a peer in the desperate race for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Clifford ended up clearing his bench early in the fourth quarter. For the first time in six halves he played Lance Stephenson, the high-priced free agent signing from last summer. Clifford also played little-used rookie Noah Vonleh, who played his one college season at Indiana.
Indiana fans booed ex-Pacer Stephenson every time he touched the ball Friday.
The Hornets finished the game shooting just 35 percent from the field and 4-of-18 from 3-point range. Shooting guard Gerald Henderson finished with 12 points. Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo and Stephenson scored 10 points each.
Henderson said as important as Jefferson is to the offense, that doesn’t explain away how bad Friday’s performance was.
“Obviously Al is a big part of what we do, particularly at the offensive end,” Henderson said.
“We’re in a tough playoff push right now. That’s not the effort you can give and make the playoffs.”
The Hornets have been plagued of late by slow starts. Friday they led by as many as nine points in the first quarter, but they became unraveled in a 13-point second quarter. The Hornets shot 5-of-18 in that quarter and gave up seven offensive rebounds, leading to nine Indiana second-chance points.
“At first we played with energy and purpose. That was good until things went away from us and then we lost our fight,” Clifford said.
At 32-43, the Hornets are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference They are two games out, but would have to pass three teams – Miami, Boston and Indiana – to finish eighth in the East.
It’s hard to picture that if Jefferson is indeed done for the season.
“The only way he’ll get better,” Clifford said, “is if he rests it for a significant amount of time.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell