erik S. LESSER/EPA
Celtics center Al Horford on Friday missed his second consecutive game because of a concussion, but Stevens indicated his return could be near.
“Al’s doing way better, progressing really well, progressing through the protocol to this point,” Stevens said. “But we’ll hold him out [Friday] and reassess at the end of the week.”
Horford was hit in the head when he was fouled by Hawks forward Kent Bazemore on Monday night. He had a headache when he woke up Wednesday morning and was held out of Boston’s game against the Lakers that night after entering the league’s concussion protocol.
Horford was originally listed as out on the injury report on Thursday but he was upgraded to questionable on Friday.
Last November Horford missed nine games with a concussion he sustained when he was inadvertently hit in the head by a teammate at practice, but the Celtics do not believe this injury is as severe.
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who injured his right ankle in the second quarter of Wednesday’s game and did not return in the second half, went through a workout and shootaround on Friday and was cleared to play against Charlotte. The rookie was in the starting lineup and scored 16 points in the Celtics’ 90-87 victory over the Hornets, their 11th straight win.
“It sounded like he had a little bit of pain and inflammation,” Stevens said. “He didn’t have a reason why. He didn’t come down on it funny or anything, but when he left Wednesday he had an X-ray here, and then a deeper MRI the next day and it didn’t show much. He felt way better yesterday, better this morning.”
The NBA started the regular season a week earlier than last year to reduce the number of games on back-to-back nights. For the Celtics, the new layout is filled with long streaks of games played every other day. That is less taxing, but it has made it challenging for coach Brad Stevens to balance rest and practice time.
From the start of the season through Nov. 30, the Celtics have more than one day between games just twice. Last season they had more than one day between games four times in this stretch, and the season started a week later. They have not had a full practice since Oct. 23.
“It’s interesting,” Stevens said. “I think some players might echo this and some might argue it. But the less back-to-backs basically means it’s harder to practice, too. You don’t have that set day off and you don’t have sometimes those two days off in between games. You have more of this kind of every other day thing. So, we try to do what we can with film, with individual work, with small group work, and walkthroughs.”
The Celtics are scheduled to practice on Saturday afternoon, following Friday night’s game against the Hornets.
The Celtics have the top-ranked defense in the NBA this season, and Hornets coach Steve Clifford, for one, has been impressed.
“They have built a team around what wins defensively in this league,” he said. “They have size and versatility, so they have a bunch of guys that can switch [on screens] so they stay totally out of rotations as much as any team other than Golden State that I’ve seen. It makes everything simpler, and look at their size they have on the floor.”
Clifford commended the Celtics for staying ahead of the curve as the NBA evolves.
“They’ve done a great job putting this roster together,” he said. “They’ve looked at the league, what’s winning in the league, and they have really versatile, interchangeable parts that can play well at both ends of the floor.”
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