With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back from an excused personal absence, and Nic Batum close to returning from an elbow injury, the Charlotte Hornets are finally close to a complete roster.
Kidd-Gilchrist started in Boston Friday, after being away from the team the previous three games. It was his second absence since the preseason. The Hornets are 1-5 this season without Kidd-Gilchrist, their best defensive player, and 4-2 when he plays.
Batum has been out since Oct. 4, when he tore a ligament in his left elbow. He practiced fully Sunday, and might be ready to play Wednesday at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“To have an All-Star (caliber) player like Nic back in the lineup, to have an All-Defensive (type) player like Mike back in the lineup, it definitely will change a lot for our team,” forward Marvin Williams said Sunday.
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The Hornets are on a four-game losing streak, all on the same road trip. Adding Kidd-Gilchrist and eventually Batum back into the starting lineup will be important for experience, and should also improve depth. The second unit was the biggest weakness for the Hornets last season.
Jeremy Lamb has had his best of five-plus NBA seasons, filling in for Batum as a starter. He is second on the team in scoring at 16.7 points, and averages 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Rookies Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon have been pushed into bigger roles by Batum’s and Kidd-Gilchrist’s absences.
“The young guys have done a fantastic job,” Williams said. “Jeremy Lamb has been one of the great stories in the NBA this season with what he’s done.”
Lamb will likely go to the second unit once Batum is back. Coach Steve Clifford has said Lamb’s minutes won’t drop significantly if he no longer starts, based on how he’s improved.
Lamb said last week the key is his defense.
“I think I’ve played good defense at times, and at times I haven’t. That’s a huge thing for me; putting a full game together,” Lamb said. “Coach has put me in a position to score the ball, and my teammates set me up to score the ball, but defense helps us win games.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell