Barring a “drastic” and unexpected setback, Nic Batum will play -- and start -- Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Charlotte Hornets’ nationally-televised home game Wednesday.
That was coach Steve Clifford’s statement, after Batum practiced for a third consecutive day. He has missed the Hornets’ first 11 regular-season games and most of the preseason, after he tore a ligament in his left elbow Oct. 4. Playing Wednesday (8 p.m., ESPN) would mean Batum returns at the minimum of the projected six to eight weeks he’d miss with the injury. There was initial concern, after Batum injured his elbow in an exhibiton against the Detroit Pistons, that Batum might need season-ending surgery.
Clifford intends to start Batum, a 6-foot-8 shooting guard, which likely means moving Jeremy Lamb to a bench role. Clifford said it’s essential the Hornets get to the intended playing groups as soon as possible. The Hornets got back small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for Friday’s road loss to the Boston Celtics, after Kidd-Gilchrist missed three games with an excused personal absence.
The Hornets didn’t scrimmage at practice Tuesday, but did so extensively Monday, so Batum’s injury has been well tested in contact drills. He will wear protective tape around his left arm while playing, as he did in practices.
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Clifford said it’s yet to be determined how many minutes Batum is ready to play, although certainly Wednesday won’t be close to the 34 minutes per game Batum averaged last season. He averaged 15.1 points, 5.9 assists and 6.1 rebounds in the 2016-17 season.
Batum said he has no doubt he’s ready to play again.
“If it’s my call, yes,” Batum said of playing against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers. “If the coaches and the training staff are OK with it, it should be a go tomorrow.”
Clifford had no misgivings about that plan.
“He did a ton yesterday, and he feels good today,” Clifford said. “He feels good and he looks good.”
Batum led the Hornets in assists last season. His return is expected to improve the Hornets’ ball movement. Batum has been at practice constantly during his recovery, and feels he will fit in seamlessly.
“It’s pretty easy,” said Batum. “My job is to play off of those guys, to set (up) those guys. I know where they want the ball.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell