Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson, left, holds his leg as trainer Steve Stricker talks to him on the bench as the Hornets played the Sacramento Kings during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Charlotte, N.C. Sacramento won 113-106. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — One major contributor for the Charlotte Hornets returns from an injury and another goes down.
That's been the way the season has gone for the Hornets.
But Charlotte appears to have dodged a bullet on Thursday when an MRI on the back of center Al Jefferson's right calf and knee proved negative. The Hornets said Jefferson will meet with team physicians, who'll determine at that point how much time he'll miss.
Jefferson said he doesn't expect to play Friday night against the Chicago Bulls.
"The quicker we can get the pain out, the quicker I can be back," Jefferson said Thursday, adding "it's not a long-term thing."
That's a huge relief to coach Steve Clifford, whose team has been beset by injuries all season.
Jefferson's injury occurred in the third quarter of Wednesday night's game against Sacramento, the same game in which point guard Kemba Walker returned to action after missing 18 games following knee surgery. The team's starting forward Cody Zeller is also out with a strained shoulder, and several other Hornets have missed time due to injuries.
Still, the Hornets are in the thick of the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference.
Jefferson said he felt something pop in his leg when he leaped to tip an outlet pass while running back on defense. He motioned to the bench to be taken out of the game. He left for the locker room and never returned.
The Hornets lost 113-106.
"I couldn't run," Jefferson said.
Jefferson did not practice Thursday and walked with a noticeable limp as he left the locker room. He said he has pain above his calf and in the back of the knee.
Jefferson feared the injury might have been worse.
"When you start messing with the knees, stuff like that, you kind of go into panic mode," Jefferson said. "So it's good to see that MRI come back negative."
Coach Steve Clifford said after the game he also thought the injury was worse and began thinking Jefferson might miss a couple of weeks or possibly the entire season.
Jefferson is a huge part of Charlotte's offense. He's averaging 17.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and was a third-team All-NBA selection last season.
Clifford said with or without Jefferson in the lineup, the Hornets need to start playing better, smarter basketball, particularly in defensive transition. After the game, he lit into his players during his postgame press conference.
"We're not running back, we're not organized and we're not doing any of the stuff that we're talking about in the shootarounds," Clifford said. "So we're easy to play against."
Clifford said the Hornets aren't talented enough to be a "sometimes" team, meaning they only put forth full effort on some occasions.
"Let's face it — that's what we are," Clifford said. "Do we have room for error? Almost none. Do we have to play all-out, 48 minutes a night with great enthusiasm, energy and intelligence? Yes we do. And teams do that.
"We've got to decide if we're going to do the right thing all the time. Right now we don't do that. We'll have a great stretch and then we'll relax and we'll decide to do that again. If we're going to play like this, forget the playoffs. We can't win like this. We can't."
The good news for the Hornets is Walker didn't appear to have any setbacks against the Kings.
He only played 16 minutes and had six points and his shot looked a little rusty. Walker will continue to see more minutes as the season progresses.
"It felt good," Walker said after the game. "Like I've been saying, I've felt really confident."
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