SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Bobcats are targeting an important stretch of games in the middle of the month, possibly as soon as Jan. 14, for the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from a fractured left hand, coach Steve Clifford said.
“Next weekend we’re at Minnesota, at Chicago, and we’re hoping to have him back after that,” Clifford said Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena, where Charlotte beat the Kings to close an otherwise-disappointing 1-4 trip. Under that scenario, Kidd-Gilchrist would rejoin the team for the Jan. 14 home game against the Knicks, a particularly welcome addition at a time the defense is slipping after previously leading the Bobcats into the playoff conversation.
That night would also be the start of an important time in the schedule, with six of eight games against teams either with worse records than the Bobcats (New York twice, Philadelphia, Orlando) or close to them in the standings (Toronto, Chicago), while also facing the Heat and Clippers. While it is impossible to truly be out of the postseason race in the Eastern Conference, Charlotte needs to either take advantage of that time or survive to re-establish itself as a defensive-minded group capable of something bigger than just an encouraging start.
The Bobcats are still on pace to finish in the top 10 in defensive rating, shooting defense and scoring defense, but Clifford has grown concerned the last couple weeks over a declining intensity, calling out the focus of players by saying “I think it’s our mentality. Even when we were winning four out of five, we weren’t defending the way that we had before.” That would become the other important timing aspect of a Kidd-Gilchrist return with Charlotte at 7-9 while the hand has been mending – his biggest contribution will come on that side of the ball, almost at the very time they need to be re-energized and the chance for a couple weeks ahead to find stability and in the standings.
“I’m the leader of the defense on this team,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I’m like a middle linebacker, so, yeah, I’m going to take it upon myself on the defensive end. On the offensive end, there’s Al (Jefferson) and there’s Gerald Henderson and there’s Kemba (Walker). But on the defensive end, there’s me. I put it on myself to get us back there.”
The starting small forward and No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft fractured his left hand Dec. 3 at Dallas. He was initially in a cast, has advanced to wearing a splint and is able to do a lot of running and other cardio work. But Kidd-Gilchrist has not been cleared to catch a ball yet, let alone for contact in practice.
“I miss the game of basketball,” he said, admitting there were times he took it for granted. “I miss it a lot.”