Update on Hornets’ Cody Zeller’s recovery, and how soon he’ll be ready to play again

Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller close to return

Center Cody Zeller scrimmaged Monday for the first time since suffering a fractured hand Dec. 31. He talks about his conditioning.
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Center Cody Zeller scrimmaged Monday for the first time since suffering a fractured hand Dec. 31. He talks about his conditioning.

With Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller scrimmaging Monday for the first time in a month, his return from a fractured right hand looks imminent.

The Hornets list Zeller as probable to play in Tuesday’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Zeller has been out since New Year’s Eve, when he suffered a fracture at the base of the middle finger of his right hand in a victory over the Orlando Magic.

Zeller had corrective hand surgery in New York City a few days after the injury. He was cleared to start working out individually about two weeks ago. He tested the hand and his conditioning in a short full-court scrimmage Monday.

“We didn’t go long, but it felt really good because all I’ve been able to do is run,” Zeller said. “I feel like I’ve been training for the Tour de France or a marathon, one or the other. I’m excited to be back out there.”

Hornets coach James Borrego didn’t commit Monday morning to Zeller playing against the Clippers, but he did indicate he doesn’t think Zeller will need long to get back into the mix. Zeller has started each of the 35 Hornets games he’s played this season.

“I think it’s just getting his legs back in a live game and getting comfortable with the hand (recovery), making sure he’s good,” Borrego said of whatever remaining adjustment Zeller will experience. “He’s played with that (core) group for a number of games and a number of seasons, so I’m not worried so much about that. Just physically finding his rhythm again and I think he’ll have that after one game.”

Zeller has missed 16 consecutive games, in which the Hornets went 8-8 despite a January loaded with road games. In Zeller’s absence, the Hornets have mostly started Bismack Biyombo at center, backed up by Willy Hernangomez. It’s unclear how quickly Zeller would be reinserted into the starting lineup but everything Borrego has said about the subject suggests he doesn’t intend to reintegrate Zeller slowly, assuming he’s ready for that conditioning-wise.

Zeller said he suspects there will be some backside value for the Hornets in how various players filled in at center. In addition to Biyombo and Hernangomez, Frank Kaminsky, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all played some minutes there in January.

“They kind of figured how to play without me and that makes us an even deeper team,” Zeller said. “The guys have played well, Biz and Billy especially.

“It’s going to be good for us down the stretch.”

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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