Memphis Grizzlies v Charlotte Hornets

Big Al Probable for Friday Return

Al Jefferson could be coming back very soon as the Charlotte Hornets gear up for a playoff push.

Big Al is listed as probable to return on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks—Charlotte’s first game back from the All-Star Break. No. 25 has been out of the lineup since Dec. 28 and had surgery on Dec. 30 to repair the torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee.

The Professor practiced and scrimmaged in full with the team for the first time since the injury, and he reported afterward that the knee feels much better.

“It was better than I thought,” Jefferson said of his first full-scale practice in six weeks. “It feels great. The surgery basically solved the problem. I was trying to wait until the end of the year, but obviously. I had to go and get it over with to be ready for the second half”

Charlotte Hornets v Indiana PacersThat return date aligns with the six-week recovery timetable he was given after the operation. Al played just two games in December. He missed 11 games to start the month after sustaining injury and incurring a league suspension. The calf injury could’ve come as a result of the knee issue, which Al revealed bothered him since the start of training camp in October, and even in the previous season.

He played through it early on and was initially slowed by the calf injury. Then upon returning, the pain was just too much for Big Al to tough out.

“I was trying to wait until the end of this season to get it done and cleaned out. It got to a point where I was limping and couldn’t do anything,” Big Al said. “I’ve just got to get my wind back and my rhythm back. These two days (of scrimmaging) will be good for me.”

Cleveland Cavaliers v Charlotte HornetsShortly before the All-Star break, Al returned to practice on a limited basis with the team but was hoping to return in the final few games before the break. That didn’t quite pan out for the Mississippi native, but it doesn’t look like he’ll have to wait much longer.

Even without their star center, the Hornets have put themselves in contention for a playoff spot. Going into Friday, Charlotte sits seventh in the Eastern Conference standings at 27-26—and just four games separate them from the No. 3 seed.

“That’s the goal,” Al said of the postseason push. “That’s what I want to do – and everybody else here wants that too.”

The Hornets brass made a trade deadline move to bolster that playoff push. Charlotte acquired guard Courtney Lee from the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team trade on Tuesday, in which the Hornets parted ways with P.J. Hairston and Brian Roberts.

Memphis Grizzlies v Charlotte Hornets

Lee has four years of postseason experience to his name while playing for the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies. He averaged 13.3 points in the playoffs a year ago with Memphis, and Big Al is excited for what the 6-5 guard will bring to the table.

“A guy who’ll accept his role, who will do whatever he has to do to help his team,” Big Al said of Lee. “And a guy who has played in some big games. He went all the way to the Finals with Orlando. He’s got the experience. I’ve been playing against him for a long time and have always had respect for him.”

The Hornets are winners of three straight coming out of the break. But they’ll play five consecutive games spanning nine days, all on the road. It starts Friday with an 8 p.m. ET tip in Milwaukee.

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