Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets without two vets Thursday; will they return this season?

Charlotte Hornets’ Cody Zeller on knee injury

Charlotte Hornets Center Cody Zeller discusses his sore and swollen left knee.
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Charlotte Hornets Center Cody Zeller discusses his sore and swollen left knee.

The Charlotte Hornets likely will be without two former lottery picks due to injury Thursday, and there’s no clarity when Cody Zeller or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be well enough to play again.

Forward Kidd-Gilchrist was placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol Wednesday after he collided head-to-head Tuesday night with the Philadelphia 76ers’ Amir Johnson. This is Kidd-Gilchrist’s second concussion since September and the third of his seven-season NBA career.

Zeller, the fourth overall pick out of Indiana in 2013, will be listed as doubtful to play in Thursday’s home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. That would be the center’s fifth consecutive game missed due to swelling and soreness in his left knee.

Zeller missed much of last season following surgery on that knee. Following that procedure in December 2017, to repair a torn meniscus, Zeller was advised by his doctor that he’d have episodes of swelling and pain in the future.

Zeller said he hoped that by missing the March 11 game in Houston and then having three days off from games, he’d be healed enough to play. But he’s missed the three games since. Zeller is hopeful he’ll play soon, but still isn’t certain he’ll play again this season.

“It’s kind of the balance of ‘What I can I play through?’” he said. “I can play through some of the swelling, but at the same time am I hurting the team being out there? What am I hurting (with) my long-term career?”

Zeller already missed the month of January with a broken right hand that required surgery. The Hornets still view themselves as in playoff contention, but their chances of catching the Miami Heat for the last spot in the Eastern Conference are dwindling. They trail the Heat by three games with 13 left to play.

He has done some light on-court work — mostly shooting — but hasn’t tested his knee lately in agility or sprinting.

“I don’t know,” Zeller said, when asked how confident he is that he’ll play again this season. “I was hoping to be back last night (Tuesday against the 76ers).

“It’s just been slow. It’s frustrating, but I definitely hope to be back there.”

Kidd-Gilchrist, a former No. 2 overall pick out of Kentucky in 2012, has played as a reserve this season after being a starter his first six NBA seasons. To be cleared to play, he must pass a series of tests overseen by the NBA that includes being able to recover from exertion without concussion symptoms. Hornets coach James Borrego said he did not expect Kidd-Gilchrist to be cleared in time to play Thursday night.

Kidd-Gilchrist has had two prior concussions as an NBA player. The last one was late September, when he missed about a week of the preseason. In February 2013, during Kidd-Gilchrist’s rookie season, he was knocked unconscious in a collision with then-teammate Jeff Taylor during a road game against the Rockets.

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.


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