Charlotte Hornets

Injuries nag Charlotte Hornets as opener approaches

Loose ends.

Unfortunately for the Charlotte Hornets that term best describes their situation heading into Wednesday’s season opener at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Injuries were constant in the preseason to a point that only one candidate to be a starter – small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – played in all eight of the team’s exhibitions.

Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams and Lance Stephenson each missed one or more games. Gerald Henderson missed all eight. Stephenson, dealing with a nagging groin strain, still was not able to practice Monday.

Stephenson, who missed four exhibitions, said he feels good and expects to play Wednesday. Clifford said the team has to balance the desire to have Stephenson play with what’s best health-wise.

“He’ll try to practice (Tuesday) and we’ll decide then. He wants to play. It’s just a matter of making sure” he’s well enough, Clifford said. “We want him for the long term. So if he’s not ready, we’ll just wait and see how he feels.”

Recent experience underscores Clifford’s approach. Last season Jefferson pushed himself back from a right ankle injury to play in the season opener at Houston. He ended up aggravating the injury to the point that he played in just two of the next 11 games.

So even if Stephenson’s nickname is “Born Ready,” it’s no certainty he will be Wednesday.

That would be a blow in that Stephenson was the star signing of the Hornets’ offseason. They signed him to a three-year, $27.4 million contract with the intent of featuring him at shooting guard or small forward.

The Hornets also signed power forward Williams and point guard Brian Roberts in free-agency and drafted first-rounders Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston. So there has been considerable roster turnover.

Clifford said he isn’t sure what he’d do if Stephenson can’t play. The logical move would be starting Henderson, but he has participated in only two full-contact practices since returning from a hamstring strain.

Henderson said his hamstring is healed, but he’s still getting back his rhythm, as are various other rotation players.

“We did a lot of contact (Monday) because I need a feel for who is where,” Clifford said.

“It’s just how the preseason has gone – it’s not a lack of concentration or effort, we’re just not healthy. We obviously have key guys who, because of injury, don’t have their individual games in the rhythm they’d like to be in. That has affected where we’re at as a team.”

Point guard Walker agreed the injuries have thrown off the preseason.

“It’s tough. First we didn’t have (Henderson) and now Lance is out,” Walker said. “It’s difficult when key guys are out because you don’t know how long it will take for them to get back into it.

“But at this level, once everyone gets healthy, you expect them to catch on fast.”

While none of these injuries appeared serious, they added up to a disruption.

“Last year we had the ankle injury to Al, but we’d still played all those preseason games with the same group,” Clifford said.

“This year we had no continuity at all with the lineups for our exhibition games. I don’t even know what the playing groups are. Last year they all knew who they would play with and what offensive sets we’d run when they were in. This year we’re not even close to any of that.

“But that’s not an excuse. We still have expectations that we should go out and play well. That’s part of coming together.”

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