Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller isn’t cleared to scrimmage yet, but that major step in his recovery from knee surgery appears days away.
Zeller had mid-December surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. Zeller fully participated in noncontact drills at practice Thursday for the first time in six weeks. Barring a setback, he’ll soon start scrimmaging, the last major step before he’s available to play.
The Los Angeles-based specialist who operated on Zeller gave him a recovery timeline of six to eight weeks. That would suggest Zeller could be medically cleared to play around the end of the month. Part of the issue will be regaining game-level conditioning after a long layoff. Because his injury was to one of his legs, Zeller has been limited in what he can do to maintain conditioning.
“I’ve been trying to keep my cardio up. Hopefully (clearance to scrimmage) will come in the next few days,” Zeller said following practice at Spectrum Center.
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Zeller has missed the past 23 games. How did he feel, following Thursday’s practice?
“Not bad. They cleared me to run on the treadmill in the past week or two, so I’ve been doing a lot of sprints, trying to get back in shape like that,” Zeller said. “But nothing really compares to the pounding in the post, or the screens. That’s a lot different from just running on the treadmill.”
Zeller backing up Dwight Howard made center the Hornets’ deepest position going into the season. Howard, 32, hasn’t missed a game this season. With Zeller out, Hornets big men Johnny O’Bryant and Frank Kaminsky have filled in behind Howard at center.
Zeller is known as one of the NBA’s better screen-setters among big men, and far above average athletically for centers, in terms of running in transition and rolling to the basket. He’s been missed, for instance, in pick-and-roll combination with Nic Batum.
The Hornets won’t have much opportunity to practice during their upcoming schedule, which is heavy with road games. After Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks at Spectrum Center, the Hornets play 10 of their next 12 games on the road.
Zeller is expected to travel with the Hornets; one other possibility to get him some extra scrimmage time could be a brief stint with the Hornets’ G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams went up to Greensboro, when he was recovering from therapy on both knees, for a practice to get in a run.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell