BOSTON — The Charlotte Hornets and their rickety defense are the next team that will try to stop the steamrolling Boston Celtics.
The Hornets (5-6) have dropped the first three games of a four-game road trip, allowing 113.3 points per 100 possessions per game on the trip before they visit TD Garden on Friday night to play the Celtics, winners of 10 straight.
“We’ve been smart and hard to play against, and right now we’re not,” coach Steve Clifford told the Charlotte Observer at practice in Boston on Thursday.
Charlotte will add some help for this game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was away from the team for personal reasons the past three games, rejoined the club Wednesday and was back at practice Thursday. Clifford said Kidd-Gilchrist would start in the first game of the season series against Boston.
The coach said Kidd-Gilchrist is “a defensive stopper, a guy who can play against primary scorers. That’s critical in this league.”
While Kidd-Gilchrist returns for the Hornets, the Celtics said Thursday that Al Horford would miss a second straight game in the NBA’s concussion protocol. Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum had a clean MRI on his injured right ankle, but he is questionable for the game against Charlotte.
Celtics president Danny Ainge told 98.5-FM Thursday morning Horford’s head injury is not as bad as the one that cost him nine games last season.
“Hopefully he’ll be back soon,” Ainge said. “We’ll just take it day by day.”
Tatum, the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft who is off to an outstanding start, left Boston’s Wednesday night win over the Los Angeles Lakers at halftime. He exited TD Garden in a boot.
“We’re hoping it’s a soft tissue injury in the ankle joint,” Ainge said.
The Celtics have been battling injuries since before the regular season started, beginning with newcomer Marcus Morris’ knee injury. They then lost Gordon Hayward for the season in the first quarter of the first game and played two games without Marcus Smart.
However, they just keep winning. They became the first team in NBA history to lose its first two games and then win its next seven — and they have tacked on three more wins since.
“Until we have only four (players) left, I guess we’re just going to keep playing,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after his team held off the young Lakers. “And then I don’t know what you do at four but keep playing.
“Most importantly, and I don’t want to make light, the most important (thing) is those guys get back healthy.”
The Hornets are still without shooting guard Nicolas Batum, who is recovering from an elbow injury. But Batum has been cleared to practice and could play as soon as next Wednesday.
“We’ve got to get to our (planned playing) groups; we’re 11 games in,” Clifford said. “It will take some time. But when they get back, they’re going to start.”
The Celtics swept the four-game series from the Hornets last season, but all four games were decided by single digits.