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Hornets coach Steve Clifford: Cody Zeller ‘long way to go’ from knee injury

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 22: Cody Zeller #40 of the Charlotte Hornets in action against the n during their game at the Barclays Center on March 22, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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Josh McRoberts isn’t the only player who hurt himself in last season’s Heat-Hornets first-round playoff series and is still reeling from the injury.

Charlotte center Cody Zeller is in the same boat.

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer

Zeller has been held out of contact drills this preseason while he receives treatment for a bone bruise along his right knee. Wednesday he was held out of the entire practice.

“He’s not even doing the non-contact stuff at this stage, so he has a long way to go,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

Zeller came on strong last season after the Hornets moved him to center. This is a pretty significant loss if he misses regular-season games.

Charlotte has far less margin for error after losing several key contributors in free agency. With the middle of the Eastern Conference packed so tightly on paper, the Hornets have a narrow difference between home-court advantage in the first round and missing the playoffs entirely.

At least they signed a solid backup in Roy Hibbert. Ideally, Hibbert will protect the rim better than Zeller – though the offensive drop is significant. Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky can provide some offensive output off the bench, but there’s a reason Kaminsky mostly plays power forward and Hawes doesn’t play that much at all.